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

SEC mostly ignores us, proposal weakens investor protections | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a proposed rule implementing the controversial JOBS Act that fails to protect small investors from a likely onslaught of sales pitches online and on the phone -- including from private equity and hedge funds. Positively, it's only a proposed rule, at least nominally subject to amendment, not an interim final rule.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

More credit card banks quit evil ways | Ed Mierzwinski

In July, the CFPB slammed Capital One for tricking consumers into buying over-priced, under-performing credit monitoring and debt-cancellation subscription products. More good news: the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Bank of America has stopped selling debt cancellation products and that Citibank is in some sort of timeout.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Wall St. Computers Run Amok and More Friday Financial Follies | Ed Mierzwinski

Will the blowback from Wednesday's Wall Street high-speed trading crash caused by computers running amok revitalize efforts to enact a small tax on stock transactions? Meanwhile, here are the rest of the week's financial follies, finishing with a Funk #49.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Friday's Financial and other Congressional Follies | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday the U.S. House passed a bill stopping all regulations designed to promote the economy, preserve the environment or protect health, safety and pocketbooks. Meanwhile,  Citibank's Sandy Weill, the man who in 1999 convinced Congress to destroy the 1932 Glass-Steagall financial protections, has changed his mind.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Payday lenders seek "get out of regulation free" card | Ed Mierzwinski

Triple-digit APR payday lenders are spending some of their massive profits on a bad legislative proposal, HR 1909, to eliminate any oversight by either state governments or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and move them into the arms of the industry-friendly federal bank regulator known as the OCC. Being regulated by the OCC has been a "get out of regulation free" card for the banks, so why not join them?

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB To Visit NYC and More Consumer News of the Week, In Case You Missed It | Ed Mierzwinski

Just a few of the interesting consumer stories I am following this week: CFPB heads to New York to talk about checking accounts (Feb. 22)... Meanwhile, Citibank charged some consumers twice to pay bills only once (NYTimes)...Consumer groups call for a real recall of Bumbo baby seat (Boston Globe)...Mortgage settlement is a good first step (PIRG statement)...House opponents ratchet up attacks on new CFPB (WashPost)...Over-priced "Who will pay your credit card if you die, get sick or get laid off?" products pay out only 21 cents on the dollar (American Banker)...More on the CFPB's latest semi-annual report (St. Louis American)...PIRG, Demos document rise of the Super-PACS (MS-NBC)...And finally, "Enron" -- a musical theater production about corporate crime, re-opens in Washington State (The Olympian).

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB's Cordray to Highlight Achievements/Goals Today In Senate | Ed Mierzwinski

The Senate Banking Committee will hold an oversight hearing today at 10 am (live video) on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's semi-annual report to Congress. The witness will be CFPB director Rich Cordray, who received a PIRG-backed recess appointment from the President on January 4th. Expect some CFPB opponents on the committee to boycott; others to show up.

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