Northern Trust apology shows promise

Connor Guy

By now, it’s a cliché to say that we’re entering a new economic era. It’s just about impossible these days to have not heard that the national and global economies are in trouble. Just as cliché is the notion that ‘we need to start being a little more responsible with our money.’ Everyone wants to act the wiser, and scold the rest of us for not realizing exactly what kind of situation we’re in.

A bank called Northern Trust Corporation recently came under fire for doing exactly what’s become so easy to criticize-they spent millions of dollars on a PGA golf tournament sponsorship and associated parties after receiving $1.6 billion of federal money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Responding to a reproachful letter from Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), in which he called the bank’s actions irresponsible and arrogant, Northern Trust Corp. said that it will return the money spent on the parties and work to make sure future activities are more appropriate to the economic environment.

This is coming not long after the big three automakers flew to Washington in their corporate jets to beg congress for emergency bailout funding.   General Motors’ $36 million luxury jet is only one of an entire fleet that GM uses to transport its executives around the world, and a single round trip to Washington costs around $20,000.

Despite harsh criticism from just about the entire nation, including President of Citizens Against Government Waste, Tom Schatz, who called the whole ordeal “a slap in the face of taxpayers,” the big three weren’t eager to apologize. Even after the House and the Senate essentially wagged a huge, collective finger at them for the entirety of their hearing, the big three CEOs were still unapologetic and determined to defend their right to private jets.

Then, of course there was the whole ordeal in which bailed-out Wall Street investment firms still paid over $14 billion in year-end bonuses. This move unsurprisingly drew plenty of criticism, including some harsh words from Congressman Denis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who called these bonuses “an affront to taxpayers,” and president Obama, who chose words like “shameful,” “outrageous” and “the height of irresponsibility” to describe the bonuses.

Surprisingly, these reprimands didn’t draw much of an apologetic reaction either. “My bonus is ‘shameful,'” admitted John Konstantinidis, an insurance broker on Wall Street, “but I worked hard to get it.”

So what’s any different about Northern Trust? Despite the lameness of their apology (again: they say that they’ll “work to make sure future activities are more appropriate to the economic environment”)-despite this, they actually did apologize. Maybe even this small start on the road to responsibility is a good thing. Maybe, in America, where we’re slow to admit our wrongs and even slower to correct them, this is a good sign.