Maybe it’s a reflection of just how unpredictable and unconventional European banks have become. Or maybe it’s just a different way to attract a crowd.
But when the Paris-based Euro Banking Association was looking for a Canadian symbol for its booth at a major international banking conference in Toronto this week, the EBA didn’t choose hockey, maple syrup or Mounties. Instead, it turned to Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist known as much for his eccentricities as his musical genius.
The EBA booth at the event, known as Sibos, has an eight-foot high silhouette of Mr. Gould playing piano in his unique style. There’s also a replica of his famous piano chair, which let him sit just over a foot above the floor, and samples of his correspondence and musical scores. “It has created a crowd of people around our stand,” EBA spokesman Daniel Szmukler said. “You don’t see this kind of thing here.”
Indeed, Sibos is hardly a place to find classical music. It’s a global gathering of roughly 8,000 banker types, most of whom deal with the inner workings of electronic payments, cash management systems and information technology.
The EBA, which includes an association of about 100 European banks and an entity that specializes in cash settlements, is holding a session at Sibos focusing on “the setting of end dates for the migration of credit transfers and direct debits” across Europe.
Mr. Szmukler said the Sibos crowd tends to have a bland image as “operators” instead of “innovators.”
“We are trying to change that image when it comes to our brand,” he said. “We feel it’s an industry that is very innovative. It just has the wrong reputation.”
Mr. Gould, he said, is a perfect fit because of his brilliance and creativity. “We are actually drawing a direct link between the spirit of creativity and innovation in both of our industries,” he said. “We feel that what we are to our industry, Glenn Gould was to his.”
Mr. Szmukler acknowledged knowing almost nothing about the late, great pianist or his music until just before the convention. However, Gilbert Lichter, the head of the EBA, plays piano and is a fan. “He told me about him. Honestly, I did not know very much about Glenn Gould,” Mr. Szmukler said.
When asked about Mr. Gould’s famous oddities, such as wearing heavy coats in summer and living an almost hermit-like existence, Mr. Szmukler laughed. “We are seen also as a bit eccentric. We’re not a typical crowd.”
Brian Levine, executive director of the Toronto-based Glenn Gould Foundation, which helped put together the display, was caught off guard by the EBA’s choice. “Out of everything that they could have chosen to represent Toronto or Canada, they didn’t choose hockey players,” Mr. Levine said. “They picked an artist, a figure of the arts and Glenn Gould in particular.”
The foundation promotes the work and life of Mr. Gould, who died in 1982, and organizes the annual Glenn Gould Prize for the arts. Mr. Levine said the pianist’s fame has soared in many parts of the world, especially Asia and Europe, and more companies are seeking to use him in their advertising. “We have had sponsorships from Canadian banks and increasingly we are looking abroad to international financial companies and institutions,” he said.
Even better, the foundation is getting a small donation from the EBA. “We’re told they are making a little one,” Mr. Levine said. “I think they are busy making donations to Greece first.”