Of Course Americans Still Hate Banks

Amy He

By Amy He  Fri Jan 18, 2013

Amy is a staff writer at MyBankTracker.com. She writes about banking and culture. More Columns »

Citibank NYC 5th Ave branch

But you can’t blame them, right?

Earlier this week, MarketWatch listed the ten most-hated companies in America, and to my big surprise, a financial institution made the list. And by surprise, I mean no surprise at all.

Citigroup is the sole financial institution on the list, joining the likes of American Airlines, JC Penny, T-Mobile and Hewlett-Packard. What fine company you keep, Citi.

The list was compiled by 24/7 Wall St., who analyzed companies by looking at their stock performance, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. This is what 24/7 Wall St. had to say about why Citi is one of the most-hated companies in America today:

Citigroup sacked CEO Vikram Pandit, left, late last year, after he had shepherded the bank through the financial crisis and then fired thousands of workers as well. Pandit’s successor, Michael Corbat, said he would fire 11,000 more. The bank’s board may have been frustrated with the pace of cost reductions under Pandit, but that was not the only issue that the board apparently believed had hurt long-term shareholder value. Pandit’s mishandling of the sale of its Smith Barney unit caused Citi to write down $2.9 billion, and the action triggered a cut in its credit ratings by Moody’s. Such actions did not endear Citi to investors. The recovery of Citi’s shares since the global financial meltdown has been far worse than its major competitors.

The minutia of investment deals and investor quarrels at big financial institutions like Citi is of no concern to regular Joe Schmoes like you and I. All we know is that a lot of money is being thrown around, and we’re not really benefiting that much from it, if at all. (Have you seen those saving rates?)

But anyone who even vaguely keeps up with the news knows that banks and other financial institutions are still regularly digging their own graves.

Before the holidays, HSBC was fined a record-breaking $1.9 billion to settle charges of laundering funds to countries like Iran and Sudan. A Congressional committee stated that over the course of nine years, the bank “exposed the U.S. financial system to money laundering and terrorist-financing risks.” The government, in fact, had sufficient evidence that the bank was exposing terrorist and drug cartels to the country’s financial system, but decided that prosecuting the bank on criminal charges would effectively kill the bank, which could possibly cripple the global economy once again.

Peter Henning at the New York Times commented that:

It remains frustrating that cases involving major criminal misconduct by financial institutions most often result in a large fine and a commitment to follow the law, while individuals are not held to account – leaving the impression that, for the banking sector, these settlements have become little more than expensive parking tickets.

If HSBC isn’t the perfect example of “too big to fail,” I don’t know what is.

Then, right after the holidays, insurance giant AIG made the news because its board members were deciding whether or not to sue the Federal government for unlawfully seizing AIG since the bailout meant that the government ended up taking a 92 percent stake in the company and depriving shareholders of their money.

AIG has a lawsuit itch these days, because they made the news again this week: now they want to sue the banks that sold them faulty products, like claiming that Bank of America packaged and sold bad mortgages to them, leading to billions of dollars in losses for AIG.

AIG eventually dropped the lawsuit against the Federal government due to considerable backlash — did they really expect anything else? — but seem dogged in their attempt to point fingers elsewhere.

Early last week, the government settled multiple lawsuits with banks for previous bad behavior. In one settlement, Bank of America agreed to pay Fannie Mae more than $11 billion to settle bad mortgages. Fannie Mae claims that Bank of America put together and sold bad mortgages, which it then sold to the government. When borrowers defaulted on those loans, it cost Fannie Mae billions in losses.

In another settlement, ten major U.S. banks — including BofA, Citi and Chasehave to cough up $8.5 billion for wrongfully foreclosing on homeowners because the banks skipped steps in the foreclosure process and mishandled paperwork.

Yes, banks are paying up for misdeeds committed earlier, but that doesn’t really erase the distrust that American consumers have for banks and other financial institutions at this point. These settlements are revealing just how committed banks are to blatantly disregarding this country’s rules and regulations, and more importantly, how little they care for the individual consumer. Banks and financial institutions have capitalized too heavily on Americans’ dream of house ownership, and to be faced with punitive damage is the very least they can do.

Two days ago, everyone paid attention to news that Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, is taking a 50 percent paycut. A 50 percent cut is a huge one, to be sure, but Dimon is still getting paid more than $11 million a year. Times reader Johndrake07 puts it most eloquently:

The hardships facing Jamie Dimon almost bring me to tears. It is a sad sign of the times when we have to cut banker’s salaries in half! — to a measly 11 million. Think of the difficulty facing his family — their clothes allowances drop to $5000 per month, the food rationing that will have to take place. No more fresh sushi at Masa. Gone will be the hob-nobbing with Alain Ducass at Essex House. They’ll have to abandon their favorite table at Per Se — tears jump to the eyes at the thought!…It’s a shame. A dang shame.

Banks and other financial institutions keep inadvertently airing their dirty laundry, settlement after settlement, and in lieu of actual punishments, we find that the government is a big fan of tiny slaps on the wrist, as they’re not ever willing to risk bank death. What banks learn from all of this is probably nothing at all.

So nope, you can’t blame America for still hating banks.

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