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America Bests The Big Bad Banks!

By       Message Eugene Elander     Permalink
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Sometimes, the people win -- the 99% of us who do not control the nations's financial and corporate empires can in fact beat the system, and even best the big bad banks! Such megabanks as Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo tried recently to impose new and unjustified debit card usage fees on their own customers, thus attempting to make up for limitations Congress had placed on their other abusive fees imposed on merchants. As a result of the immense customer backlash against these abuses of trust, Chase and Wells Fargo have just announced that they are dropping pilot projects and test programs in a number of states intended to foist these fees upon us.

It's not as if these megabanks, and others such as SunTrust in Georgia, really need the revenue from these fees.  Take Wells Fargo, the bank which holds our mortgage and a bank account: their profits were up 21% to over $4 billion dollars in the most recent quarter, before their new "debit card activity fee" had even started.  When I first began to protest that fee and the sneaky way it was being imposed via a small-print notice in Wells Fargo's print bank statements, I was told by their head public relations staffer here in Georgia that they had to make up for recent legislation championed by United States Senator Dick Durbin and others which limited the amount of such fees imposed on merchants to a semblance of actual bank costs.

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But what I was told was very partial and misleading, as Wells Fargo had already made up for that revenue loss -- the debit card activity fee was just intended to be "icing on the cake" for them, a convenient excuse to shaft loyal Wells Fargo customers. And one factor which helped Wells Fargo and most of the other megabanks cope with any fee restrictions was all of those billions of federal dollars provided to bail them out of the consequences of their own unwise decisions.  So, essentially, they were using the fruits of that governmental largesse to shaft America.

Instead, some of us loyal customers rose up and fought the megabanks. In the case of Wells Fargo, I proposed (as a retired professor of money and banking who helped write a leading textbook) that my bank take the high road and publicly announce that it was rejecting any new fees imposed on its own customers as unfair, unjust, and indeed unnecessary.  I pointed out that by taking the high ground, Wells Fargo would actually attract business from the customer-abusive banks. But instead, Wells Fargo made clear to me, via an executive in their California headquarters, that they preferred to take the low road and impose the fee as a test here in Georgia. Had that test worked, they fully intended to go national with the new debit card activity fee.

It seems, though, that Wells Fargo's unwise policy did not work out well for them.  One factor which undoubtedly helped involved complaints I filed with the entire United States Congress, the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau operated out of the White House, and a host of regulatory agencies such as the United States Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Comptroller of the Currency.  I also filed complaints at the State of Georgia level with our Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs, but as usual they did not even bother to respond.  The Feds, however, began to launch investigations into Wells Fargo and the other megabanks.

While many of these new debit card fees are now being rescinded, as they well should be, undoubtedly the megabanks have not given up.  They will continue to try to find new ways to rip off their own customers, as well as the 99% of Americans they think they can abuse with impuntiy.  They undoubtedly have staff on board, including the people  with whom I dealt, who will be rewarded for thinking up new schemes and gimmicks to gouge us.  This battle is never-ending, and just as the price of liberty  is eternal vigilance, so is the price of equity and decency.  Still, we can all take heart that we won the present round in that battle -- now, if we can only win the war on corporate greed itself!

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Author's Biography Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)

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