One of the most popular articles on the entire internet this week is a BuzzFeed post called “This Bank’s ATM Surprised Its Customers In The Most Incredibly Touching Way.” The post is about TD Bank branches in Canada celebrating “Customer Appreciation Day” by giving away gifts and prizes.
It’s all captured very dramatically in a four minute video produced by TD Bank. A woman gets $2,000 to start a college fund for her kids. A man gets a Blue Jays jersey and a chance to throw out a pitch at a game. Another woman gets a bouquet of flowers. Another guy is very excited to recieve a green box, although you never find out what’s inside. Everyone is very thankful and emotional and it’s set to dramatic music.
The BuzzFeed post featuring that video and quotes from the SVP corporate marketing at TD Bank Group has attracted over 700,000 page views in little more than 24 hours. The video has also received fawning coverage from the NBC News, The Huffington Post, TIME and dozens of other outlets. On YouTube, the video has been viewed over 4 million times.
Although it’s not shown in the video, most customers received a green envelope with a twenty dollar bill. BuzzFeed describes the gifts as “a life-changing surprise.”
Something you won’t learn about in the video or any of the articles covering it: this week, a federal appeals court upheld a $67 million verdict against TD Bank for “their complicity in disbarred South Florida attorney Scott Rothstein’s $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.” During the trial, Frank Spinosa, TD Bank’s former regional VP, took the Fifth 170 times. (Rothstein plead guilty to fraud and is currently serving 50 years in jail.) TD Bank was also sanctioned during the trial for “willfully” withholding relevant evidence from the plaintiffs.
And in 2011, TD Ameritrade — an American affiliate offering brokerage services — was charged by the SEC for misrepresenting the nature of their money market accounts to customers. The SEC asserted that TD “violated the securities laws when they mischaracterized the fund as a money market fund, as safe as cash, or as an investment with guaranteed liquidity.” The fund, in fact, included risky investments issued by Lehman Brothers, which became worthless when Lehman went bankrupt. As part of a settlement, TD agreed to refund $10 million to its customers. The action is listed on an SEC webpage entitled “Addressing Misconduct That Lead To Or Arose From The Financial Crisis.”
Just how incredible was TD Bank’s customer appreciation day?
To put it in perspective, the bank gave away about $600,000 worth of stuff on customer appreciation day. TD Bank, which also operates extensively in the United States, collected over $6.2 billion in profits in the fiscal year ending in October 2013. So the bank’s appreciation for its customers stopped at about 0.0097 percent of its yearly profit, or what the bank makes in about 51 minutes. The value of the Ponzi scheme the court ruled that TD Bank was complicit in is roughly two thousand times larger than the amount the bank spent appreciating customers.
Of course, the gifts have no true cost to the bank. The marketing value of over 4 million people watching a 4 minute advertisement for your company far exceeds $600,000.
TD Bank is fully capable of showing its appreciation to its customers with “life-changing” actions. For example, any of the people on this list of these foreclosed properties would appreciate getting their homes back. It would make a great YouTube video.