Reining in Wall Street

STANDING UP AGAINST THE BIG BANKS AND WALL STREET—For more than 20 years, Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski has helped us stand up against big banks and credit card companies.

A PRO-CONSUMER FISCAL FUTURE

Consumers shouldn't have to worry that their financial institutions are ripping them off, or using tricks and schemes to squeeze money out of them.

Yet for years, federal bank regulators ignored numerous warnings of increasingly predatory mortgage practices, credit card tricks, and unfair overdraft policies used by the big Wall Street banks. They also ignored warnings of risky securities being packaged and sold to investors. In the wake of the resulting financial crisis, U.S. PIRG fought for and successfully urged passage of a strong 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Since winning federal Wall Street reform, we've worked to defend those reforms from the industry's attempts to defang, defund or delay them. In particular, since it began work in July 2011, we've had to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the first federal financial agency with just one job: protecting consumers. However, it took another two-year fight against the opponents of the CFPB to convince the Senate to confirm Bureau's director, Richard Cordray, to a full five-year term. The Senate finally confirmed Cordray in July 2012, eliminating any uncertainty over the CFPB's authority over credit bureaus, payday lenders and other non-bank firms.

The CFPB - in many ways the centerpiece of the broader 2010 Wall Street reforms - has already succeeded in protecting consumers, from students and soldiers to seniors and homeowners. Among the CFPB's successes have been its new regulation of the mortgage markets, its creation of a publicly-available consumer complaint database, and its investigations of the big credit bureaus. The CFPB has also made banks and credit card companies return nearly half a billion dollars to consumers who were treated unfairly.

Yet consumers, taxpayers and investors still face big risks in the financial marketplace. Big banks are allowed to make risky bets with our money, many financial institutions are still finding ways to unfairly squeeze money out of their customers, and financial industry practices still pose risks to the financial system. So in addition to defending the CFPB, we are working to protect investors, taxpayers and the financial system itself:

  • We're supporting a requirement called the Volcker Rule which would prevent big banks from using their “own” money, which includes depositor funds, to place risky bets.
  • We're urging the Commodity Futures Trading Commission not to allow the big banks to hide their reckless financial bets offshore the way that AIG and JP Morgan's London Whale did.
  • We're backing Securities and Exchange Commission rules to require that all public companies, including banks, publish the ratio of compensation between their CEO and their middle-level employees.

In short, we're building a financial regulatory system that guarantees that consumers and taxpayers are protected from predatory practices. And we're fighting to give consumers a seat at the table when it comes to oversight of the nation's financial system.

Issue updates

Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Criticizes Banks Re Account Opening and Overdrafts, Offers Consumer Tips | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the CFPB is holding a field hearing in Louisville on problems consumers face when opening bank accounts. It finds that big banks frequently offer consumers expensive accounts where they risk overdraft fees instead of affordable accounts. Further, the CFPB finds that the practices of specialty "bad check" credit bureaus make it harder to open accounts. The CFPB issued warnings to both the banks and credit bureaus while providing consumers with new tips and advice.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Debating trade and consumer protection in Brussels today | Ed Mierzwinski

I am in Brussels today debating consumer protection and the proposed US-European trade treaty known as the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP. Today's public event, and a second public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday with live webstream 9am-noon DC time) comparing the CFPB to its European counterparts, are sponsored by the PIRG-backed TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue.

> Keep Reading

U.S. PIRG Statement on State of the Union Address

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama came before Congress to give his seventh and final State of the Union address. In his speech, the President highlighted top national priorities and some of the greatest challenges faced by the American people.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

House Committee Launches Trojan Horse Assault On State Privacy Laws | Ed Mierzwinski

This afternoon (Tuesday, 8 December), the U.S. House Financial Services Committee launches a massive attack on state privacy laws. Hidden inside a seemingly modest proposal to establish federal data breach notice requirements is a Trojan Horse provision designed to to take state consumer cops off the privacy beat, completely and forever. That's wrong, because the states have always been key first responders and leaders on privacy threats that Congress has ignored, from credit report accuracy and identity theft to data breaches and do-not-call lists.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Privacy, We've Got Tips and Ideas For You, Congress and Regulators, Too | Ed Mierzwinski

Problems with privacy and data security are all over the news these days. We've got you covered, from releasing a new report and consumer tips on the security freeze today to testifying to Congress (last week) on payment card security and speaking on a panel at the FTC tomorrow on Internet lead generation (what's that?). Oh, and we're waiting for answers to our questions to the CFPB about the credit bureau Experian joining the ranks of the breached. We've been busy as we explain in this "roundup" blog entry.

> Keep Reading

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U.S. PIRG Statement on State of the Union Address

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama came before Congress to give his seventh and final State of the Union address. In his speech, the President highlighted top national priorities and some of the greatest challenges faced by the American people.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy, Financial Reform

Citi shareholders gathered in NY demand lobbying disclosure

 

NEW YORK, NY - Citigroup shareholders gathered today in New York City for their annual meeting and outrage over Citi’s role in the financial crisis was still palpable in the room.  A major topic of interest was a shareholder proposal that would require the company to disclose its lobbying expenditures to its investors, one of over 100 resolutions on political activity filed this season.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Financial Reform

Credit Bureaus’ Deal to Improve Accuracy ‘Huge’ for Consumers

(Bloomberg) -- Buying homes, getting jobs and borrowing money will be easier after an agreement by the three biggest U.S. consumer credit reporting services with New York.[...] “It’s a sea change in the way the credit bureaus treat complaints,” said [U.S. PIRG's Ed] Mierzwinski. “The credit bureaus have been run by computers for years now. They’re going to have to hire more people and actually verify that what a creditor said is true.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Condemns Backdoor, Backroom Appropriations Proposal To Gut Wall Street Reform

We join others, including Americans for Financial Reform and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in condemning this backdoor, backroom appropriations "rider" to weaken the Wall Street reform law's protections for taxpayers and Main Street from the risky derivatives swaps that led to the 2008 financial collapse and recession.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

New Federal Bills Would Protect Students From High-Cost Campus Bank Accounts

Yesterday, House and Senate lawmakers introduced bills that would protect college students from being needlessly steered into campus bank accounts — accounts that often drive up students’ costs and deplete their financial aid. U.S. PIRG warned that if we the Department of Education can't protect students from high campus debit card fees, then we will "pursue this strong alternative approach put forth from the Hill.”

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Reforming Wall Street

U.S. PIRG’s campaign to win historic Wall Street Reform was recognized by The Hill newspaper as one of the Top 10 lobbying victories of 2010, which wrote that, “[c]onsumer advocacy groups like the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Consumer Federation of America won big with the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.” In addition, we worked to ensure the confirmation of Richard Cordray as director of the CFPB, ensuring that the new agency had the power to carry out its mission.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy | Financial Reform

Big Data Means Big Opportunities and Big Challenges

This report examines the growing use of "Big Data" in financial decision-making, especially in a digital marketplace characterized more and more by the use of mobile phones. It explains the opportunities to use Big Data to promote financial opportunity and the threat of financial exclusion, discrimination or higher prices for some consumers if Big Data is not used properly. The report makes recommendations to advocates, industry and regulators.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Over the last six months, state PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 250 bank and 116 credit union branches in 17 states and the District of Columbia and reviewed bank fees online in these and 7 other states. They found that free checking remains available at more than 6 out of 10 small banks and credit unions but was only found at one-quarter of surveyed big banks (those with over $10 billion in deposits).

> Keep Reading

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Ten Reasons Why We Need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now

This report outlines predatory financial practices that hurt consumers and helped collapse the economy, costing us eight million jobs, millions of foreclosed homes and trillions of dollars in lost home and retirement values. It explains these and other emerging problems as “10 Reasons We Need The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now.”

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Over the last six months, PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 392 bank branches in 21 states and reviewed bank fees online in 12 others.

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Criticizes Banks Re Account Opening and Overdrafts, Offers Consumer Tips | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the CFPB is holding a field hearing in Louisville on problems consumers face when opening bank accounts. It finds that big banks frequently offer consumers expensive accounts where they risk overdraft fees instead of affordable accounts. Further, the CFPB finds that the practices of specialty "bad check" credit bureaus make it harder to open accounts. The CFPB issued warnings to both the banks and credit bureaus while providing consumers with new tips and advice.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Debating trade and consumer protection in Brussels today | Ed Mierzwinski

I am in Brussels today debating consumer protection and the proposed US-European trade treaty known as the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP. Today's public event, and a second public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday with live webstream 9am-noon DC time) comparing the CFPB to its European counterparts, are sponsored by the PIRG-backed TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

House Committee Launches Trojan Horse Assault On State Privacy Laws | Ed Mierzwinski

This afternoon (Tuesday, 8 December), the U.S. House Financial Services Committee launches a massive attack on state privacy laws. Hidden inside a seemingly modest proposal to establish federal data breach notice requirements is a Trojan Horse provision designed to to take state consumer cops off the privacy beat, completely and forever. That's wrong, because the states have always been key first responders and leaders on privacy threats that Congress has ignored, from credit report accuracy and identity theft to data breaches and do-not-call lists.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

Privacy, We've Got Tips and Ideas For You, Congress and Regulators, Too | Ed Mierzwinski

Problems with privacy and data security are all over the news these days. We've got you covered, from releasing a new report and consumer tips on the security freeze today to testifying to Congress (last week) on payment card security and speaking on a panel at the FTC tomorrow on Internet lead generation (what's that?). Oh, and we're waiting for answers to our questions to the CFPB about the credit bureau Experian joining the ranks of the breached. We've been busy as we explain in this "roundup" blog entry.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

The More I Hear About OPM Data Breach, The Less I Know, Except This: It's Bad | Ed Mierzwinski

Was it 4 million, 14 million or 18 million records breached (how many times) (likely) by Chinese hackers? Whose fault was it? The USOPM director says no one's. Really? Perhaps the worst data breach ever raises lots of questions, but I haven't heard any good answers. Federal employees, their families, their friends and their neighbors -- because all of them could be victims -- deserve better answers, just as they deserve better service than USOPM's credit monitoring provider is giving them.

> Keep Reading

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Send your senators a message right now, urging them to stand with consumers and support Richard Cordray and a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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