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On the Hot Seat

Moynihan: ‘Our job is to be fair to customers’

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan said he never expected the economy would take so long to recover and that unemployment would go so high. “It’s just been a long effort to pull through this,’’ he said.

Next month Brian Moynihan will have served two years as the chief executive of Bank of America Corp. Moynihan, who joined the bank after it acquired FleetBoston, spoke recently with Globe reporter Todd Wallack and business editor Shirley Leung in the bank’s Boston office.

Many people worry about banks that are too big to fail. Is Bank of America still too big?

At the end of the day, you need strong banks to have a strong economy. Without getting into all the details, [regulators] are trying to have us have more capital, more liquidity so in a time of crisis, we can be there to support the economy and not have to shrink and retrench. We’re all for that. We’ve doubled our capital and the industry has gone way down the road of doing that.

How badly did the plan to impose a $5 debit card fee hurt your reputation, and how do you repair it?

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We didn’t do our best work there. We did a lot of testing, but the customer spoke and we pulled it back. Our job is to be fair to customers. Our customers know what they’re getting from our franchise, which is the ability to conduct business in a way that no one else gives them: 18,000 ATMs. 5,700 branches.

Why did you decide to abandon the fee?

We struck a chord with customers that no one anticipated. We learned our lesson and stopped it.

You’ve said you have 42 million retail customers, many of whom aren’t profitable. Do you want to get rid of a lot those customers?

No. We need them to consolidate their relationship with us. If they have part of their relationship with us and part of their relationship somewhere else, that’s the difficult thing. Our job is to get the whole relationship.

A lot of people blame Bank of America and other big banks for some of the country’s problems.

We know that in the financial crisis, our industry had excesses. We all know that and we’ve said that. The whole industry has changed. We took a lot of risk out. Made the bank simpler. A lot of the [institutions] that caused problems are gone. The ones that are still here learned their lessons.

What do you think of the Occupy Wall Street movement?

People have a right to express their opinions. Our job is to be fair to our customers, our job is to produce a profit for our shareholders, and our job is to keep moving our company forward.

Anything surprise you when you became CEO?

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The length of time for the economy to recover has been something that would have been unexpected.

How long did you think it would take?

I don’t think anybody would have predicted unemployment would be as high as it is. It’s just been a long effort to pull through this. We’re past five years since housing prices stopped going up.

Unlike many banks, you supported Dodd-Frank. But are you concerned about any of the proposed regulations?

We want to make sure our customers can be served. There is not a company of any size that doesn’t conduct business around the world. So what does that mean? Currency risk. Interest rate risk. And they have to hedge that risk out. The question is, as you write these rules, do you start to inhibit the ability to support these types of things?

How vulnerable are Bank of America and other big banks to the European debt crisis?

Our direct exposure is relatively small. If the economy the size of Europe is going to be recessionary or whatever is the right word, that hurts worldwide growth and that hurts everyone.

What’s your reaction to the Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s lawsuit against Bank of America and other big banks over foreclosures?

I think we have worked in Massachusetts and elsewhere as diligently as anyone to help homeowners stay in their homes and we’ll continue to do that.

You’ve announced plans to cut 30,000 jobs worldwide. Do you know how many will be in Massachusetts?

No.

You have about 7,000 workers in Massachusetts. Do you expect that to come down as you cut jobs worldwide?

As we bring our headcount down, you can expect headcount to be neutral to down all over the company. Any individual location - I can’t tell you the outcome yet.

You still live in Wellesley. Your travel schedule must be brutal.

It wouldn’t be any different no matter where I lived. We travel to do everything. It’s what we do.

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