Reading The M&Tea Leaves–No Matter What, The Community Could Bank On David Carson

David E.A. Carson, retired chief executive of People’s Bank.

David Ellis Adams Carson knows what it’s like to stare down financial adversity and come out stronger while others withered away. Immigrant, trained actuary and successful insurance executive, Carson transitioned to banking leader in the 1980s becoming chief executive of People’s Bank. New England’s economy hit the rocks around 1990 and with it a storm of bank closings.

Carson and the bank persevered. A different kind of storm is confronting M&T Bank’s information migration following its purchase of People’s.

In May, I was invited to address M&T’s communications team at the former People’s headquarters Downtown sharing tidbits about Bridgeport history, the current state of things and the bank’s connection to the region.

The bank culture under Carson (I am his biographer) was a welcoming mixture of customer care, technology and corporate giving. Many bank leaders, including Carson, lived in Bridgeport. The bank was part of the community and the community part of the bank.

When Carson retired circa 2000, the bank began a gradual, then runaway, slide from community loyalty.

New M&T leadership, I explained to the group, was challenged to rebuild the goodwill culture that recent execs abandoned, especially against the backdrop of a takeover and the associated trapdoors of information transitioning.

It’s too soon to predict how the Labor Day weekend info migration will impact the willingness of People’s customer base to remain on board. It will require a coordinated plan on several fronts.

Connecticut Post columnist Michael J. Daly shares his take on the takeover with an assist from Carson.

The man to talk with about banking, in Connecticut in particular, is David E.A. Carson, the visionary who lifted Bridgeport-based People’s Bank to prominence during his 22-year career as the bank’s CEO.

So when we spoke last week about the tribulations of M&T Bank’s troubled inhalation of People’s data over the Labor Day weekend, it was of only small surprise to learn that officials of the new bank had, in fact, reached out to him, too.

Sept. 3 was Transition Day, the day on which the merging of People’s United’s data into M&T computers was to become operational.

Seamless it was not. The howling of customers who could not access their accounts could be heard across the land. The painful transition resulted in a storm of complaints from customers left without access to their money and other services, and calls for action from government officials, including Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

A lunch meeting last week between Carson and Michael Keegan, M&T’s executive vice president and head of community markets, was arranged indirectly through Lennie Grimaldi, Carson’s biographer and owner of the insightful website, “Only in Bridgeport.”

Last May, at the bank’s invitation, Grimaldi spoke to M&T’s 40-member communications team to give them an overview of Bridgeport history.

“I told them they had their work cut out for them in replacing People’s United Bank in the hearts and minds of the Greater Bridgeport area,” he said in a conversation last week.

Full story here.



  1. Seriously, and I do mean seriously, if you have been a long-time People’s customer, you were proud of the place it and it’s employees worked in community activities, beyond their professional employment. And David Carson was an important reason why they entered the 21st Century when so many regional and statewide competitors had departed from the competitive scene. Holders of People’s stock had the right at any time to count their value in the marketplace and decide to sell. (Personally I owned none when the decision was made, but I have been an account holder at this time overseeing multiple business, non-profit and personal accounts.)

    I therefore suffered the effects of system inadequacy in one or more ways, observed fellow account holders in long lines waiting to deposit, cash a check, or be heard on their problem or issue and understand the breadth of discontent.

    Where is there a hero with a face that is familiar to our community? They need not wear a bow-tie though Dave Carson did and does, and I do also. But in their “new presence” where is there a public statement of what went wrong and why? There can be no fun in being attacked by most levels of government who are equally guilty of not being open, accountable, transparent or honest in their presentations.

    Read the CT Post Opinion page article by a fiscal pro from upstate, Alan Calandro, raising issues of opaque State accounting and unavailability of reporting to taxpayers year after year. It’s an election year with a couple multimillionaires duking it out for State leadership, and a former director of CT’s nonpartisan legislative office of Fiscal Analysis has raised multiple substantive issues for our attention. Who is listening?

    Who shall be the M&T nominee? Tell us what happened, please, and what to expect from the “new guy in town,” please? Time will tell.

  2. Some people like to “try on” new nicknames when starting a new chapter in their lives. Whatever the reason, but I like your New Name, it has so much meaning (Lennie the Shill.)
    Shilling for Joe G., Peoples Bank, Steal Point, The DTC, The Amp, Pitchman for Donald Trump, the list goes on, and now M&T Bank.
    Also any new political Greenhorn Salivating over one of his/your OIB Ads!
    P T Barnum can’t hold a candle to you …….Shillie!

    1. I’m surprised you weren’t iced. I was shut down for “fabricating” stories about some who ended up being arrested for reasons that were allegedly “fabricated”.
      ‘Telling it like it is’, is not appreciated by some. As in : the truth hurts.

      1. I have recently written about American skills at manufacture and distribution. I had not used the term fabric (knowing that the best items are made of whole cloth) or “fabricating” as you did knowing that it is understood less as a creative work than as an attempt at telling about or explaining something in a less than factual or truthful way.
        Posting the truth, or a factual story, if you will, takes time to get the info correct and eliminate most of the questions that tend to rise. Such narrative or prose may appear less interesting than other types of stories, but when you are asked to write a check, taxpayers, or cast a vote, those registered, would you wish to place your marker on the facts, along with Sergeant Joe Friday of DRAGNET days. “Just the facts, mam, just the facts!” Time will tell.

  3. Anybody taking bets on how long it will take M&T to move its regional HQ to Stamford (or maybe Boston)?

    Anybody taking bets on how long it will take UB to completely fold its tents as an institution? (Lot’s of potential, “connected” buyers for that property… And they could probably buy it with City $ — a la the Amphitheater, et al….)

    Great job by the City and Business Council on maintaining the health of Bridgeport’s essential business and educational institutions…. (BPT., 2021/2022 — down 1 university, 1 airport, 1 major financial institution/employer…) (And how much did it cost Bridgeport last year to subsidize the SHU institutional presence — and “party” presence — in our city last year?!…) GREAT WORK BY THE GANIM ADMINISTRATION! FOUR MORE YEARS! (NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

  4. I am so very grateful for this thread, Lennie. It affords me an opportunity to vent some history stories welling up in me and issue some modern-day complaints, too.

    I am the son of Denise Ellen Taft Davidoff, a Queens native who lived in Connecticut from 1959 until her death in Bridgeport at age 85 in 2017. Mom worked in advertising for Time-Life in Manhattan after college. When she and my father moved to Connecticut in 1959, she found a job in the advertising department of the Bridgeport Post and Telegram. (Mom and dad moved here the same year the Connecticut Turnpike opened from Greenwich to New Haven. They sensed the suburbanization and population growth about to be experienced in Fairfield and New Haven counties.)

    Around 1962, she moved from the newspapers to a small ad agency in Westport run by Charles A. Smith. She began working with banking clients including Merchants National Bank in Norwalk and Mechanics and Farmers Bank in Bridgeport. Charlie and mom parted ways in 1966. Mom opened her own agency in Fairfield. Within a short time, Merchants and M&F took their business to Mom’s new agency.

    Mom made a specialty of bank marketing. In those years, decades before banking consolidation, her client list grew to include New Haven Savings Bank and banks whose names I’ve forgotten in Meriden, Simsbury, Rockville, and Norwich, and perhaps other Connecticut towns as well. Her advice — in an era when businesswomen were few and far between — was trusted by the men who were presidents of these banks. She mostly advertised these banks on the basis of their outstanding customer service and their community service. When their customer service reports showed the banks’ services might be flagging, she’d counsel the bank presidents to improve their customer service before she’d create and place more ads for them. Despite her blunt counsel, the banks renewed her services year after year, decade after decade. Her ads won awards. Two banks — M&F and New Haven Savings Bank — renewed her contracts even though they had directly competing branch offices in Milford and other towns.

    I say all this because years later, when she was retired and after the banks I’ve named long disappeared, Mom told me that there was a reason that People’s Bank survived all its competitors in the Bridgeport region. People’s survived because it deserved to survive, she said. After decades of competing head to head with People’s Bank, she said that David Carson was the best bank president and he ran the best banking organization. She became friends with Carson, who later recommended her about 25 years ago for a place on the board of directors of The WorkPlace. She became instrumental in hiring Joe Carbone, who has led The WorkPlace for two decades. Mom served as vice chair of The WorkPlace up to her death.

    I mention all this because she would surely have been aghast at the performance of M&T Bank in assuming the People’s Bank legacy and brand during Labor Day Weekend. Would she have laughed? Or, cried? She would have cried.

    I don’t want to put words into Mom’s mouth, so what I say here is based on knowing her as I did.

    First, M&T has a miserable brand. What does it stand for? Its new sign high atop the Bridgeport Center building is barely visible at night from the Connecticut Turnpike. It’s quite literally a weak brand, illegible on its New England regional headquarters to passersby. Is M&T so embarrassed to be in Bridgeport that it wants to be invisible to people? It’s a singular signage foul-up. The sign needs to be stronger and more visible. It needs to be replaced.

    Until recently (someone woke up!), M&T had a weak Wikipedia entry with virtually no history of the formation and development of the bank. Nothing even stated what “M” and “T” stand for. It now turns s out the bank was founded in 1856 as “Manufacturers and Traders Trust Company.” Are “M” and “T” the initials of the bank’s founders? In Connecticut, we can only assume that M&T now stands for “Miserable & Terrible.”

    Having been raised to believe banks prosper with excellent customer service, i think it is incredibly embarrassing to those concerned that history will record that M&T entered Connecticut by firing hundreds of Nutmeg employees and freezing the accounts of many customers. History will remember the public complaints of the state attorney general, the senior U.S. senator, and the mayor of its regional headquarters city.

    If I were René F. Jones, chair of Miserable & Terrible Bank, I’d make a mea culpa tour of Connecticut. Perhaps P.R. professional Max Reiss is working on such a goodwill visit now. If not, he should be. The chair of Miserable & Terrible Bank should not wait for those public officials to grovel at the bank’s doorstep. Hat in hand, CEO Jones should visit their offices instead!

    M&T has blown the technical part of the brand takeover. That’s for sure.

    And to date, it has not even addressed a far more pressing part of the takeover. It has completely destroyed its reply to the classic marketing question: “What’s In It For Me?” This is such an important question, it’s known as the “WIIFM Factor” (pronounced “Whif-‘em”).

    What’s in it for me to be an M&T customer? What’s in it for my Bridgeport neighbors to host M&T here? What’s in it for Connecticut?

    The hell if I know.

    As a People’s customer, I carefully read all the material and messages M&T sent to me via mail, internet, and mass media. Nowhere did I read a compelling reason to stay with the bank. Why should I want to be an M&T customer? I do not have the foggiest idea. The bank has not offered a reason. It told me how wonderful the transition would be. But it never said why I should stay with the bank now that it was no longer a proud local concern.

    For customer service? Um, we can cross that off the
    list for now.

    For commitment to the community? We can cross off that reason, too. Building unemployment rolls is not a cool look for a business coming into Connecticut. Folks tend to remember bad moves like that.

    For mobile technology? Well, the People’s Bank app was a lot easier to use than M&T’s mobile app.

    I spent many years working in affordable housing finance, serving as communications director of the Indiana Housing Finance Authority, equivalent in the Hoosier State to the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA). So I’ve read M&T’s messages looking for special mention or pride in first-time homeowner mortgages through Mortgage Revenue Bond funds or multi-family rental housing finance through investment in Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs). M&T evidences no special pride in its track record in this area.

    Finally, I have visited M&T’s headquarters city of Buffalo, New York, only once. But it was a good visit and I saw many parts of that city while I was there. I have known many people from Buffalo in my life, and the one thing they have in common is an unusual civic pride in Buffalo.

    People from Buffalo love Buffalo. They really do.

    Like Bridgeport, Buffalo has suffered mightily from de-industrialization. Steel? Gone. Automotive? Gone. Yet Buffalo has proudly redeveloped its waterfront. It has cool neighborhoods. The State of New York’s “Billion for Buffalo” initiative invested — well, you guess how many dollars — into redeveloping Buffalo.

    How much did M&T participate in that program? Is it proud of its economic and community and neighborhood development work in Buffalo? Does it take credit for any part of the positive turnaround in Buffalo? This Bridgeporter would like to know. I think Connecticut cities like Bridgeport would like to know. But M&T is silent.

    Buffalo people may love Buffalo. But a certain Buffalo-headquartered bank seems so quiet about Buffalo that you’d think its headquarters city embarrasses it. If it’s silent about Buffalo, whatever makes us think it will say or do anything positive about its new regional headquarters city in Bridgeport? Are we just a new shame for M&T?

    M&T has royally botched its entry into Connecticut. It’s embarrassing to be M&T’s customer. The bank so far destroys everything it touches in Connecticut.

    The bank’s carefully crafted pablum public statements are corporate-speak and hardly reassuring or authentic.

    When M&T CEO Jones stands at State Street and Main Street in downtown Bridgeport in front of its regional headquarters with Sen. Blumenthal, AG Tong, and Mayor Ganim and apologizes to them and their consistents, I’ll know Connecticut has been heard at M&T headquarters. If the visit includes a large check for the Bridgeport-based Building Neighborhoods Together not-for-profit affordable housing developer, I’ll feel even better still.

    The legend of David Carson might smile on such a day.

  5. DD,
    Thank you for opening up multiple questions for M&T Bank. The decrease in deposits noted with less than a month as owners has to be a sign of the ability to walk around the corner to another brick and mortar institution from elsewhere usually but without currently confronted by those who inherited M&T.
    I look at the tellers, managers, and others who have platform responsibility. They are the ones who made my banking experience with People’s pleasant and predictable. How are they getting through this? What role do they have to play in current or future deliverables?
    I also was happy to hear a fuller story of how your Mom made her way in the region. I met her once or twice, but nothing in depth, though you could tell that she was competent, trusted, and successful by and within the regional community.
    What will the bank do? Listen to the voice of the locals is but one choice. And since they already in their P.R. asked the question in promo materials, “Do you have the right checking account?” Were they seriously asking that question of those in their lobbies, waiting for answers? Time will tell.

  6. It’s my opinion that M&T Bank missed a huge opportunity by not retaining the People’s brand. So many people in this area have a lifelong banking relationship with People’s. Even with a takeover, M&T could have kept the People’s name and labeled it as a M&T company or a subsidiary of M&T. I do not know too many brands that in the local area which are stronger that People’s Bank. I had fierce loyalty to People’s since I was a kid, and I know many people did.

    That being said, I am not an expert in such things and I think that people who know a lot more than me must have diligently looked at this and made the decision to change to a name that many never heard of before the takeover. Time will tell as to whether they made the right decision. I do hope they are successful and I hope for the best for all the former People’s employees who now work for M&T.

  7. Although the branches have been renamed, The People’s United brand is still evident here — 203 366 4242.
    Pick up a phone and try it! Do I know something M&T doesn’t?
    That number was in service before ATMs existed!


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