The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Economy

Banks Squeeze Consumers on Savings, Credit Card Rates

 

Image: thinkinnovation

The biggest banks are enjoying high profit margins at the expense of consumers. Today, the rates on savings accounts are the lowest as a percentage of the Federal Funds rate and credit card rates are the highest in proportion to the respective Federal Funds rate. The Federal Funds rate is the rate the Federal Reserve charges banks to borrow money.

Sources: Federal Reserve St. Louis, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 8/1/18

Sources: Federal Reserve St. Louis, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 7/31/18

The divergence on both charts shows how the consumer is squeezed on both sides of the financial ledger – receiving less for their savings than they should historically and getting charged much more on credit cards than is fair.

Today, the top five banks control 50 % of all banking system assets in our $15.3 trillion dollar system.  In 1990 the five largest banks held just 10 % of all bank assets.  The assets that Wells Fargo holds by itself equal all the assets of the top five banks in 1990.  As a result of the consolidation during the Great Recession our banking system is highly concentrated in just a few banks.

Next Steps:

The lack of competition is clearly hurting consumers in both financial directions, paying higher interest rates than are fair and not receiving the interest income they should. The key point is that present regulators are not doing their job requiring banks to pay higher interest and keep credit card interest charges in check.  Next, from our post on bank concentration we recommended a break-up of the big five banks:

Experts like Neil Kashkari who led the Bush Administration’s $700 billion bank bailout effort the Troubled Asset Relief Program, thinks these mega banks should be broken up. Now Kashkari is the Federal Reserve Governor for Minneapolis and has called for reducing the size of the big banks and distributing their power and control to provide a better shock absorber in the event of another banking crisis. He even calls for a 25 % capital reserve requirement many times the present capital reserve requirements the Federal Reserve has maintained in its stress test program.  We have seen with the failure of Wells to protect its customers from 3.5 million fake checking accounts created by its sales staff how poorly bank management performs.  Now, the bank is being investigated for improper referrals and transferring of funds in the wealth management division.

Enough is enough, our present financial system is too concentrated to effectively manage; distributing wealth, power and control back into regions is one way to ensure reasonable oversight and management can prevail.  In addition, we support calls for a modern day Glass-Steagall Act to separate investment banking (were sub–prime derivatives of the Great Recession were created) and commercial banking for retail customers.  We need to protect our citizens financial assets from the financial engineering and schemes of Wall Street. It is not a coincidence that today 90 % of all wealth is held by the fewest number of people since 1929.”

Building An Economy for the Common Good

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Image: Your Little Planet

In the past week, American Express won a gag order over merchants when the Supreme Court handed down a decision that allowed the huge financial services company to require all their merchants not to tell their consumers other cards had cheaper swipe fees.  Amazon announced the acquisition of Pill Pack a mail order pharmacy company, which sent financial shock waves through the drug store industry. So, it goes on, a Corporate Nation State (CNS) like American Express  or Amazon have their way limiting consumers choices to reduce costs and to take over the drug marketplace with no fair market rules in place.

Are these two companies focused on building the common good, fair play rules in the marketplace, doing what is right for consumers and taking social responsibility for the impact of their decisions?  No.  There is no countervailing power when Congress, The Supreme Court and the Executive branch are all doing the bidding of CNS organizations.

Corporations run our federal government by donating hundreds of millions of dollars (they have no campaign donation limits) each year to congressional campaigns through super PACs. Some CNS entities have large lobbying offices in Washington, like Amazon with 94 lobbyists knocking on Representative and Senator doors every day!  Do we have an army of lobbyists twisting arms for our interests?  No.

Where can we look for corporate reform to build the common good?  Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, a $6.3 trillion institutional investment corporation, sent a letter to 1000 CEOs of companies they invest in telling them that beyond profits they would be evaluated on how well they are taking care of the environment, responding to climate change, having a diverse workforce, and fairness with their employees. We applaud Mr. Fink’s move, and look to more investors to call upon corporate management to be held accountable for their social responsibilities.

There are corporate accountability frameworks that have been receiving widespread acceptance and government support. In the European Union a group called the Economy for the Common Good (ECG), has over 2400 corporate endorsers and almost 10,000 individuals support their effort to require corporations report on a Common Good Balance Sheet their social responsibility activities. The EU has adopted a non-binding directive requiring companies of 500 employees and ‘public interest’ to report on human rights, diversity, labor rights, the environment, health and anti-corruption measures. The report is not included with the corporate annual report and is therefore not audited.

The Common Good Balance Sheet is divided into four key accountability areas: human dignity, solidarity and social justice, environmental sustainability, and transparency and co-determination:

Source: Economy for the Common Good – 6/29/18

The ECG is now working to make actual changes in corporate behavior by focusing on gaining support for these eight issues:

  • universal (all values and relevant issues)
  • legally binding
  • measurable and comparable (e. g. using points)
  • externally audited
  • generally understandable (for the public)
  • public (on all products, websites, shop doors)
  • developed in a participatory process
  • linked to legal incentives (taxes, tariffs, …)

The first phase has been completed of their initiative to gain EU nonbinding support next they look for a binding EU directive by 2020 followed by integration financial reporting.

We need to find corporate leaders in the US that see the vision of an Economy for the Common Good, embrace it and implement its ideas in their day to day operations – while measuring the results to show it is a better way to run a business.  A business can build an economy that works for all and still be a thriving profitable enterprise.

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