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BofA Shareholders Get Folksy Welcome

Bank of America shareholders gathered for their annual meeting in Uptown Charlotte Wednesday morning.

Four years after the financial crisis, these meetings have settled into a familiar routine:  a few dozen protesters wave signs outside while activist investors control the microphone inside.  Today was no different, but the meeting did have a different atmosphere.

For the second largest bank in the country, this annual meeting sure got off on a folksy foot.

"Good morning!" called Bank of America board Chairman Chad Holliday to the crowd of about 250. 

"Good morning!" came a chorus of replies.

Moments earlier, Holliday was working the room, joking with reporters and slapping the shoulders of bank employees.  The meeting was held in a mid-sized Marriott ballroom festooned with posters of happy bank customers, as opposed to the cavernous Belk Theater or cramped Ritz Carlton auditorium of previous years.

The change gave this year's gathering the feel of a community bank rather than a financial behemoth at the center of scathing public critique and lawsuits.  

Holliday's down home talk helped, too.

"I go back three and a half years ago," said Holliday in his opening remarks. "Our train was off the tracks – whether it was off the tracks and upright or just laying on its side is a judgment call. But it wasn't good."

But we're gaining momentum, he continued: "If we keep doing that one step at a time we're gonna have the company you expect."

Holliday introduced Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan as the "chief engineer of our train."

Moynihan gave his standard speech about the bank being stronger, simpler and more focused on key customers.  Then he stood calmly as shareholders peppered him with comments and questions for about 90 minutes. Most were affiliated with environmental groups calling on Bank of America to stop financing coal companies.  

The typical shareholder has a more mundane concern voiced by Bill Belk who urged Moynihan to reinstate the quarterly dividend for shareholders.

"I think it'll increase the price of the stock," said Belk. "And congratulations for the increase in the price this year. I'd like to see it happen again next year!"

"That makes two of us sir," said Moynihan with a laugh. He was careful not to make any promises about the dividend, though.

Bank of America is one of the last large banks still without federal approval to start paying dividends again, post-financial crisis.

BAC closed up slightly on Wednesday at $13.02. That's about 70 percent more than it was trading for a year ago. 

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