The Moneychangers

The Moneychangers

The Moneychangers is a 1975 novel written by Arthur Hailey. The plot revolves around the politics inside a major bank.

Plot summary

As the novel begins, the position of CEO of one of America's largest banks, "First Mercantile American" (very loosely based on the Bank of America, although it is located in an unnamed Midwestern city that closely resembles Cincinnati) is about to become vacant due to the terminal illness of Ben Roselli, the incumbent chief, whose grandfather founded the bank. Two high-ranking executives groomed for the succession begin their personal combat for the position. One, Alex Vandervoort, whom Roselli wanted to be his successor in the long run, is honest, hard-charging, and focused on growing FMA through retail banking and embracing the emerging technology; the other, Roscoe Heyward, is suave, hypocritical, and skilled in boardroom politics, and favors catering more to business than to consumers.

While Hailey seems to favor Vandervoort and draws the reader to sympathize with him, Vandervoort has suffered personally, in the form of his advancement in banking circles coming at the expense of his marriage, as his wife is confined to a psychiatric facility. In the meantime, Vandervoort has taken up with Margot Bracken, an attorney and left wing political activist many years his junior, whose political activism sometimes conflicts with Vandervoort's role at FMA. Meanwhile, Hayward is a devout Espicopalian who strives to maintain an air of personal integrity and morality, only to slowly sacrifice them both in his pursuit of the presidency of FMA.

As these men fight, various issues involving the banking industry, such as credit card fraud, embezzlement, inflation, and insider trading are discussed. "First Mercantile American" is eventually revealed to have a doppelganger in the form of an organized crime family.

The fight for control of the bank continues under the darkening clouds of an approaching economic recession. One of the two CEO contenders is brought down for his role in making a large loan to a dishonest multinational conglomerate (loosely based on International Telephone and Telegraph) that went into default. The ensuing scandal causes panic among depositors, shareholders, and employees, with the perpetrator committing suicide rather than face the consequences for his actions. The other candidate assumes the position of CEO of the half-ruined bank.

"The Moneychangers" was written before the wave of USA bank mergers that began in the 1980s. Under current conditions it is difficult to believe that a maimed bank, as "First Mercantile American" is described as being by the end of the book, could continue in business as an independent firm. Likewise, the novel predates the technological revolution and its effect on the financial services sector, with computers replacing the personal contact that characterized banking relationships when the book was written. For example, one of the book's characters is a savvy investment advisor who writes a high-priced newsletter that is typewritten and mailed to subscribers. With the technology of today, this same newsletter would be a website with the creator having a cable TV show or webcast to disseminate his advice.

On television

A television miniseries bearing the same name and based on the novel was broadcast in 1976.

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