|World Bank to Introduce Free Checking|
|Ambitious PR Plan Plagued by Gaffes, Stumbles|
By Deanna Swift
WASHINGTON Seeking to shake off its image as a global loan shark, the World Bank has announced an ambitious plan to introduce free checking in poor countries all over the world. The plan is part of a comprehensive public relations retooling that will include a new logo emblazoned on millions of t-shirts and insulated cup holders known as "koozies." The products will feature the image of a smiling globe and the slogan: "A Bank for the World."
The Bank plans to begin opening one-stop shopping outlets early next year in under-served communities on three continents. The first shops are slated to open in Peshawar, Pakistan, Lagos, Nigeria, and Philadelphia, USA.
"We want to send a message to poor people around the globe that 'we are your bank,'" announced Bank spokesman Christian R. DeLucre. "Distributing free shirts and koozies to our customers is our way of saying thanks for your business."
But the high-level PR effort is already coming under fire from residents of the same communities that the World Bank is purporting to help. In Peshawar, a representative of the conservative Islamic party Jamiat Ulema Islam immediately condemned the initiative, noting that Koranic law expressly forbids interest-bearing transactions, a category that the Banks proposed interest-bearing checking accounts would certainly fall into.
In the United States, public officials in Philadelphia expressed bafflement that their city had been selected to house one of the World Bank's new one-stop shopping outlets. "Sure we've had our problems in the past and we're experiencing some budgetary contractions now. What American city isn't?" said Marlene Nicolo, a spokeswoman for Philadelphia mayor John Street. "But we've got plenty of banks here already. As far as we're concerned they can keep their business, their t-shirts and their koozies out of our city."
For critics of the World Bank, the campaign was seen as yet more evidence of a nefarious institution run amuck. Activists from the group Break the Bank immediately released a statement to online independent media centers around the world, charging that the new "Bank for the World" campaign was simply window dressing. "They call it free checking, but if you read the fine print, the fines for bounced checks are horrendous," said one activist who goes by the online handle "Bustah." "In some parts of the world, a bounced check is just an inconvenience, but for the folks the Bank pretends it's helping, paying these fines could mean going without food for six months."
In Washington, where representatives of the World Bank recently held their annual meeting, the campaign seemed to be a hit. High-ranking officials, including World Bank President James Wolfensohn, posed for a photo ops, wearing the Bank's new smiling globe t-shirts over their suits and holding koozies aloft, as though declaring victory.
Bank officials plan to officially unveil their new logo next September at the group's annual governor's meeting. The gathering, which will be held in Dubai in 2003, is not expected to attract many protesters.