Forbes magazine as gutsy consumer advocate? Well, not really, but even the favored rag of corporate shills everywhere seemed stunned by Bank of America’s $5 debit fee announcement on Friday, accusing the banking behemoth of committing
a common mistake large corporations make: taking the customer for granted, holding the belief that whatever products or services they offer are unique and indispensible, so their customers will always be there.
While we agree that Bank of America’s incompetence runs rampant throughout the banking industry, by several measures of greed and arrogance, this troubled corporation stands alone. Allow us to present Bank of America with the following uniquely dubious titles:
Greediest TARP recipient: Bank of America took tens of billions of taxpayer dollars from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008. This bailout was supposed to help shore up the entire US financial system—as banks can be too big to fail but never too big to take free taxpayer money. Anyway, the terms of these loans required recipient banks to individually maintain sufficient cash to ward off a broader Wall Street meltdown. However, as last week’s Special Investigator General (SIGTARP) report confirms, Bank of America lobbied heavily to escape the program before they’d achieved the required financial reserves. Why? According to the report, Bank of America cited “…concerns including market perception and restrictions established by the Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation.” In other words, a shaky Bank of America weaseled out early to polish its image and pay executives more—jeopardizing the fiscal health of their company and the stability of our country.
Downsizer of the year: This one wasn’t even close. On September 12th, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan announced 30,000 layoffs—that’s more than twice the number of layoffs (13,000) declared by 2011’s second-place downsizer, pharmaceutical titan Merck & Co. Bank of America’s bombshell dropped just one month after Moynihan informed investors that “our capital levels are among the highest they’ve ever been in this institution’s history.” Maybe he’s confusing “our” capital levels with his capital levels: last year, Moynihan collected $2 million of his $10 million 2010 total compensation package. Other executives, in some cases, collected even more. Thomas Montag, head of investment banking and capital markets, will rake in $16 million for his work in 2010. Not bad for tanking one of the biggest banks the world has ever seen, though we have to wonder, how many jobs could be saved by firing these two alone?
#1 Tax Cheat: If you paid any federal income taxes at all last year, you paid more than Bank of America. In fact, unless you got a refund check bigger than $1 billion, you paid more taxes than Bank of America. It gets worse: these freeloaders paid no taxes last year and likely won’t for a long time. Chew on that next time pro-banker legislators demand we balance the budget through Social Security and Medicare cuts from middle class families.
First in Fees: All of which leads up to the latest Bank of America gaffe: the unprecedented $5 monthly debit fee slapped on any customer guilty of using his or her debit card for its intended purpose of buying things. This charge comes courtesy of a bank that for years encouraged frequent use of and zealous devotion to debit cards—mainly to help the bank rack up sky-high “interchange” fees from merchants on every card swipe. The company changed their tune, however, following federal legislation requiring that fees be “reasonable and proportional to the cost incurred by the issuer with respect to the transaction.” Apparently, despite final federal rulemaking that more than doubled the fee limit set by Congress, reasonable and proportional profits just aren’t enough for this champion profiteer—hence the shocking new fee.
While we applaud the furor over the monthly debit charge, be sure to consider this fee just the latest of many anti-consumer and anti-worker moves from the king of both. We’ll go to another surprising Forbes magazine masterpiece for the final word: “Banks aren’t our friends.” From one friend to another, we couldn’t agree more.