Wall Street banks, largely spared from the economic ruin felt by millions of Americans since the financial crisis of 2008, have returned to profitability, generating higher profits in the two-and-a-half years since the crisis than they did in nearly eight years preceding it. But that hasn’t stopped them from seeking new ways to generate revenue — like Bank of America’s proposed $5-a-month debit card fee or the millions banks have made from charging consumers to receive unemployment benefits or food stamps.
If all this makes Americans feel like Wall Street banks only view them as money-making tools, well, that’s because the banks apparently do. According to David Mooney, a former JPMorgan Chase employee, Wall Street banks see consumers as an “income stream” to exploit for profit-making purposes, Reuters reports:
David Mooney, chief executive officer of Alliant Credit Union in Chicago, one of the nation’s larger credit unions, used to work at a one of Wall Street’s top banks, JPMorgan Chase. There’s a vast cultural gap between Wall Street and his new world, he says: Old friends from the Street, he says, now jokingly refer to him as a “socialist.” A credit union is supposed to be run in the interests of all members, he says, while commercial bankers tend to see consumers as customers who can be “exploited” by layering on more fees.
Says Mooney: “I don’t say this lightly, but the consumer is simply an income stream and exploiting that is the purpose of the banking organization.”
Mooney’s bluntness may seem shocking, but his assessment shouldn’t. Wall Street banks made millions profiting off shoddy mortgage lending practices, setting the stage for the housing collapse that plunged millions of Americans into foreclosure. They made a mess of the foreclosure process, using robo-signers to speed foreclosures and foreclosing on homes they either didn’t own or that weren’t even in foreclosure. They sold deals to investors that they knew would fail, and took advantage of customers with outrageous overdraft, credit card, and other fees.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis and the horrors it exposed, Wall Street banks spent millions to prevent the passage of financial regulatory reform. Once the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act passed, they spent just as much trying to shape its rules. They opposed the formation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the agency tasked with protecting consumers from predatory banking practices, and in concert with their Republican friends in Congress, have fought to shape who will lead the bureau and how it will work.
Unfortunately for Wall Street, it didn’t take blunt assessments like Mooney’s for Americans to take action. In October, 650,000 Americans joined credit unions, which, as Mooney noted, are “supposed to be run in the interests of all members.” 40,000 more joined them on Bank Transfer Day earlier this month.
Wall Street, meanwhile, continues to ignore America’s anger at it, sipping champagne from rooftops while protesters march below.