It was clearly never a match made in heaven. On one side was the
Bank of Scotland, looking for a partner to help it break into the
tele-banking market in America. On the other was TV evangelist Pat
Robertson, known for his outspoken views on everything from
homosexuality to abortion to working mothers. Here’s a taste of his
wisdom. Speaking about the American Planned Parenthood birth-control
programme, he claimed its goal was ’to have adultery, every kind of
bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism’. In a similar vein, he regarded
an equal rights amendment to legislation in the state of Iowa as ’a
socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to
leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy
capitalism and become lesbians’.
From the moment the joint venture was announced there was concern and
anger among many of the bank’s customers. But the bank had its eye fixed
on the 55 million viewing congregation that give their faith, and cash,
to Robertson’s TV church. It saw a lucrative and loyal customer base
ready for the taking.
The bank resisted the criticism of some of its major customers until
last week, when Robertson’s comments crossed the line. This time he went
too far; he attacked Scotland. It was vintage stuff. He was quoted as
saying: ’In Europe, the big word is tolerance. Homosexuals are riding
high in the media ... and in Scotland, you can’t believe how strong the
homosexuals are. It’s just simply unbelievable, it (Scotland) could go
right back to the darkness very easily.’
The end for the deal between Bank of Scotland and Pat Robertson came
soon after. And rightly so. Large and valued customers in Scotland and
the UK had threatened to vote with their feet against the deal, and the
bank should have listened to them from the first. The saga also shows
clearly what some new research released last week suggested; that
commerce does not operate in a social vacuum, and that the issue of
corporate citizenship is one all business must address.
The research (reported in last week’s issue) was carried out by the
Consumers’ Association, Future Foundation and Richmond Events. It was
unveiled at the Communications Directors’ Forum event held last month.
Reaction from the audience of corporate communication chiefs was less
This was partly because the sample of 2000 people were all members of
the CA - a more politicised and complaint-prone group than the general
It was also partly because the results reflected the kind of prejudices
you might expect from the CA. The most trusted brands were the likes of
the BBC and Marks & Spencer, with big international players such as
Microsoft and Nike performing poorly. But the argument that underpins
the research is a strong one. Companies and brands will have to do more
to seek positive associations with the communities in which they
operate. Trust and transparency will become key issues for growth and
development. Consumers are demanding it.
It is a lesson the Bank of Scotland has had to learn the hard way.