Associated Bank cancels vacation

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  • Associated Bank cancels proposed five-day trip to Puerto Rico.
  • Associated recently received $525 million in bailout funds.
  • Associated still turned a profit in 2008 of $13.6 million.

Associated Bank, Wisconsin's second-largest bank, canceled a proposed five-day excursion to Puerto Rico for roughly 100 of its employees. A combination of public criticism and a change of opinion from company CEO Paul Beideman contributed to the decision.

Associated's parent company, Associated Banc-Corp, recently received $525 million as part of the federal government bailout funds. Associated and other banks that were recipients will pay the U.S. Treasury a 5 percent dividend the first five years and 9 percent thereafter.

Original plans called for a Wednesday departure for a five-day getaway to the El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa in San Juan, Puerto Rico and a Feb. 22 return.

The trip was intended mainly for individuals working at Associated Bank branches nationwide, and was not necessarily limited to executives or other corporate high-ranking officials.

Associated Bank found itself in a different position than other banks involved in collecting bailout money, because it turned a profit in 2008. Despite a drop of more than $64.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2007, Associated still delivered a net income of $13.6 million in last year's fourth quarter.

Beideman backtracked on his initial thoughts that this trip was based on what the employees had achieved over the last calendar year and that it calling it off would be a knee-jerk reaction to the economic situation and the thoughts of taxpayers.

Associated Bank spokeswoman Janet L. Ford was unavailable for comment. Bank employees other than Ford were not at liberty to discuss the matter.

Associated was not the only bank facing public scorn for its personal decisions. Only a week ago, Wells Fargo, which took in $25 million from the bailout, called off an employee recognition conference in Las Vegas for many of the same reasons.

Noreen Lephardt, an adjunct assistant professor of economics in the College of Business Administration, said the decisions of the bank were a lack of good judgment given the economic situation.

"In general, at this point in time, given this economy, it was not a very wise choice," she said. "There were no contingencies on government funds, so therefore there was no sense of doing something illegal. It was not illegal, but it was not very wise."

Heather Kohls, a fellow adjunct assistant professor of economics, agreed it was not the wisest decision and was slightly unfair to employees who had worked all year to achieve their bonuses and their year-end reward.

"The whole trip was to reward them for good work done," she said. "I think it is sad for them to be losing their bonus. The line between government interference and government meddling was crossed."

Prior to calling off the trip, reaction was decidedly negative from those in Wisconsin politics. U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl and Rep. Paul Ryan offered their displeasure in statements to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Some Marquette students and Milwaukee residents who have Associated Bank accounts voiced their discontent over the proposed trip.

Amanda Brezgel, a sophomore in the College of Communication, believes it is disrespectful spending by Associated Bank. She is one of many who will no longer be banking with Associated as a result of the proceedings.

"I'm taking my money out of there," she said. "I wasn't particularly happy with them and their service to begin with. This just adds more fuel to the fire."

Mary Dunn, of Greendale, admitted she didn't know the bank had received federal funds and thought it was bad timing given the economic climate.

"It was poor timing on their part mostly," she said. "If they're such hard workers, maybe they deserve this trip. But at the same point, for them to take a trip when so many others are losing their jobs seems irresponsible."

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