Ok, I admit it. I’m still mourning the loss of Commerce Bank (the one headquartered in New Jersey, that had branches up and down the eastern seaboard of the US). Commerce was famous for its wild and crazy workforce and its fanatic customer focus—until it was gobbled up by TD Bank in 2008.
Founded by its innovative chairman, Vernon Hill, and captained by its fun-loving president, Dennis Diflorio (a former rock & roll drummer from Philly!), Commerce LIVED its brand as the world’s most convenient (and innovative) bank.
For decades, most banks inside and outside the US kept, well, bankers’ hours. Most Commerce branches, on the other hand, were open seven days a week, 361 days a year, until 8 pm on weekdays. And if you wanted personal service by phone any time of day or night, a living, breathing carbon-based life form answered your call, usually on the first ring!
But in addition to being convenient, Commerce had a reputation for making banking fun. (Yes, you read that right.) At any branch on a given day a bank mascot might be handing you free stuff or an employee might greet you at the door with a newspaper—or a biscuit for your dog. Their free coin-counting machines were so much fun to use that young kids were dragging their moms to the local branch.
This was a rock & roll bank, which took pride in its “WOW!” culture, its pumped up workforce, its festive spirit. As president Dennis Diflorio once told me, “We want our employees to have fun. Life is too short.”
While a lot of corporations are sensitive to the “cult” word, Commerce welcomed the term. “Believe me we have a cult,” Deflorio said. “It’s about having enough people on the lunatic fringe as we call it, who really passionately believe that what we’re doing is very cool.”
Other banks are now attempting to co-opt aspects of the Commerce approach, but it remains to be seen how far they’ll get. (So far, I haven’t seen any promising signs in the US at least.) Rather than baking in the brand from the beginning—as Commerce did almost 40 years ago—too many banks attempt a cut-and-paste makeover years later. But customers can quickly sniff out the difference.
Meanwhile, many of us who prize radical innovation, workforce engagement, and independent thinking regret the demise of a pioneer bank.