As I have said, the behavior (driven by the poor ethical standards of the “leaders” of our financial institution) of our financial institutions means, as a a customer, you have to be on guard for their tactics to trick you out of your money. Essentially you have to expect them to behave like a pickpockets and be on guard against them at all times. This is an extremely sad state of affairs: that the ethical failings of such critically important players in our economy are so widespread, long-lasting and accepted. However, as we have seen, they profit from this behavior and their long track record of such behavior provides evidence they will continue acting in this way.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. found that Discover Financial Services telemarketers often talked faster when explaining fees and terms as they pitched the services, leading customers to think there was no additional fee, the regulators said Monday.
It is very good to see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau taking action to protect the consumers from the financial institutions continued efforts to evade the law and take a little bit from millions of consumers. This type of behavior has been tolerated previously, and should never have been. The financial institutions strategy to take small amounts from millions of people was a wise way of dealing with the tendency of law enforcement to ignore such “small infractions” – they didn’t seem to bother seeing that taking small amounts from millions of people results in hundreds of millions of dollars in ill gotten gains.
Far too much of the bad practices are continuing. And when they are caught the consequences are far too small (which is why they keep behaving unethically). Discover is only being charged $14 million in civil penalties for their lapses (and has to return $200 million it took unfairly).
It is good to have police to try and catch literal pickpockets. And it is good to have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to catch financial institutions that take far more than pickpockets can dream of away from the wallets of consumers.
Related: Capital One Bank Agrees to Refund $150 Million to 2 Million Customers and Pay $60 Million in Fines – Very Bad Customer Service from Discover Card – Credit Card Regulation Has Reduced Abuse By Banks – Continued Credit Card Company Customer Dis-Service – I Strongly Support the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Sadly, Congress refused to allow the person that should have headed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to do so: Elizabeth Warren. If we are lucky she will be joining congress as the new senator from Massachusetts to reduce the amount of big donnor favoritism that prevails there now. That attitude will still prevail, she will just be one voice standing against the many bought and paid for politicians we keep sending back to Washington (there are a couple now, but they are vastly outnumbered).
Even with congressional attempts to stop the CFPB from being able to enforce laws against their big donnors, the CFPB has announced their first public enforcement action: an order requiring Capital One Bank to refund approximately $140 million to two million customers and pay an additional $25 million penalty. This is a good, small step that is helping creating a rule of law instead of a rule of those capturing regulators and giving lots of cash to politicians. But it is a very small step. The system is still mainly about captured regulators and giving lots of cash to politicians.
This action results from a CFPB examination that identified deceptive marketing tactics used by Capital One’s vendors to pressure or mislead consumers into paying for add-on products such as payment protection and credit monitoring when they activated their credit cards.
“Today’s action puts $140 million back in the pockets of two million Capital One customers who were pressured or misled into buying credit card products they didn’t understand, didn’t want, or in some cases, couldn’t even use,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are putting companies on notice that these deceptive practices are against the law and will not be tolerated.”
Consumers with low credit scores or low credit limits were offered these products by Capital One’s call-center vendors when they called to have their new credit cards activated. As part of the high-pressure tactics Capital One representatives used to sell these add-on products, consumers were:
- Misled about the benefits of the products: Consumers were sometimes led to believe that the product would improve their credit scores and help them increase the credit limit on their Capital One credit card.
- Deceived about the nature of the products: Consumers were not always told that buying the products was optional. In other cases, consumers were wrongly told they were required to purchase the product in order to receive full information about it, but that they could cancel the product if they were not satisfied. Many of these consumers later had difficulty canceling when they called to do so.
- Misinformed about cost of the products: Consumers were sometimes led to believe that they would be enrolling in a free product rather than making a purchase.
- Enrolled without their consent: Some call center vendors processed the add-on product purchases without the consumer’s consent. Consumers were then automatically billed for the product and often had trouble cancelling the product when they called to do so.
One of the less obvious costs of a poor credit rating these days is large companies see you as someone to take advantage of. They often target those with poor credit for extremely lousy deals that they wouldn’t try to sell to those with good credit. The presumption, I would imagine, is someone able to maintain a good credit rating is much less likely fall for our lousy deals.
Related: Protect Yourself from Credit Card Fraud (facilitated by financial institutions) – Anti-Market Policies from Our Talking Head and Political Class – Banks Hope they Paid Politicians Enough to Protect Billions in Excessive Fees
High frequency trading is rightly criticized. It isn’t bad because rich people are getting richer. It is bad because of the manipulation of markets. Those being
- Front running – having orders executed milliseconds in advance to gain an edge (there is no market benefit to millisecond variation). In the grossest for it is clearly criminal: putting in orders prior to known orders from a customer to make money at the expense of your customer and others in the market. My understanding is the criminal type is not what they are normally accused of, of course, who knows but… Instead they front run largely by getting information very quickly and putting in orders to front run based on silly price difference (under 1/10 of a cent).
- Putting in false orders to fake out the market – you are not allowed to put in false orders. It is clear from the amount of orders placed and immediately withdrawn they are constantly doing this. Very simply any firm doing this should be banned from trading. It wouldn’t take long to stop. Of course the SEC should prosecute people doing this, but don’t hold your breath.
Several things should be done.
- Institute a small new financial transaction tax – adding a bit of friction to the system will reduce the ludicrous stuff going on now. Use this tax to fund investigation and prosecution of bad behavior.
- Redo the way matching of orders is done to promote real market activity not minute market arbitrage and manipulation – I don’t know exactly what to do but something like putting in a timing factor along with price. An order that is within 1/10 of cent for less than 1,000 shares are executed in order of length of time they have been active (or something like that).
- Institute rules that if you cancel more than 20% of your order (over 10 in a day) in less than 15 minutes you can’t enter an order for 24 hours. Repeated failures to leave orders in place create longer bans.
- Don’t let those using these strategies get their money back when they do idiotic things like sell bull chip companies down to 20% of their price at the beginning of the day. You don’t get to say, oh I didn’t really mean to buy this stock that lost me 50% the day I bought it, give me money back. There is no reason high frequency traders should be allowed to take their profits and then renege on trades they don’t like later.
Speculation is fine, within set rules for a fair market. Traders making money by manipulating the system instead of through beneficial activities such as making a market shouldn’t be supported.
To the extent high frequency trading creates fundamental buying opportunities take advantage of the market opportunity. Just realize the high frequency traders may be able to reverse you gains (and if you lose you are not going to be granted the same favors).
The truth is the billions of dollars high frequency traders steal from others market returns matters much less to true investors. For long terms holdings the less than a cent they steal from other market participants is small. It is still bad. Just people really get more excited about it than they need to. I would love to just get 1/1000 of cent on every trade made in the markets, I could retire. But they are mainly stealing very small amounts from tons of different people. Now the fake orders and trades that go against them that they then get reversed are a different story.
It is very simple. Adam Smith understood it and commented on it. If you allow businesses to have control of the market they will take benefits they don’t deserve at the expense of society. And many business will seek every opportunity to collude with other businesses to stop the free market from reducing their profits and instead instituting anti-competitive practices. Unless you stop this you don’t get the benefits of free market capitalism. Free markets (where perfect competition exists, meaning no player can control the market) distribute the gains to society by allowing those that provide services in an open market efficiently and effectively to profit.
Those that conflate freedom in every form and free markets don’t understand that free markets are a tool to and end (economic well being for a society) not a good in and of themselves. Politically many of these people just believe in everyone having freedom to do whatever they want. Promoting that political viewpoint is fine.
When we allow them to discredit free market capitalism by equating anti-market policies as being free market capitalism we risk losing a great benefit to society. People, see the policies that encourage allowing a few to collude and take “monopoly rents” and to disrupt markets, and to have politicians create strong special interest policies at the expense of society are bad (pretty much anyone, conservative liberal, anything other than those not interested in economics see this).
When people get the message that collusion, anti-competitive markets, political special interest driven policies… are what free market capitalism is we risk losing even more of the benefits free markets provide (than we are losing now). That so few seem to care about the benefit capitalism can provide that they willingly (I suppose some are so foolish they don’t understand, but that can’t be the majority) sacrifice capitalism to pay off political backers by supporting anti-market policies.
Allowing businesses to buy off politicians (and large swaths of the “news media” talking heads that spout illogical nonsense) to give them the right to tap monopoly profits based on un-free markets (where they use market power to extract monopoly rents) is extremely foolish. Yet the USA has allowed this to go on for decades (well really a lot longer – it is basically just a modification of the trust busting that Teddy Roosevelt tried). It is becoming more of an issue because we are allowing more of the gains to be driven by anti-competitive forces (than at least since the boom trust times) and we just don’t have nearly as much loot to allow so much pilfering and still have plenty left over to please most people.
I am amazed and disgusted that we have, for at least a decade or two, allowed talking head to claim capitalist and market support for their special interest anti-market policies. It is an indictment of our educational system that such foolish commentary is popular.
This is exactly the type of behavior supported by the actions of the politicians you elect (if you live in the USA).
It is ludicrous that we provide extremely anti-market policies to help huge companies extract monopoly profits on public resources such as the spectrum of the airwaves. It is an obvious natural monopoly. It obviously should be managed as one. Several bandwidth providers provide bandwidth and charge a regulated rate. And let those using it do as they wish. Don’t allowing ludicrous fees extracted by anti-free-market forces such as those supporting such companies behavior at Verizon, AT&T…
Related: Financial Transactions Tax to Pay Off Wall Street Welfare Debt – Extremely Poor Broadband for the USA (brought to us by the same bought and paid for political and commentary class) – Ignorance of Capitalism – Monopolies and Oligopolies do not a Free Market Make
I believe in weak stock market efficiency. And recently the market is making me think it is weaker than I believed :-/ I believe that the market does a decent job of factoring in news and conditions but that the “wisdom of crowds” is far from perfect. There are plenty of valuing weaknesses that can lead to inefficient pricing and opportunities for gain. The simplest of those are spotted and then adopted by enough money that they become efficient and don’t allow significant gains.
And a big problem for investors is that while I think there are plenty of inefficiencies to take advantage of finding them and investing successfully is quite hard. And so most that try do not succeed (do not get a return that justifies their time and risk – overall trying to take advantage of inefficiencies is likely to be more risky). Some Inefficiencies however seem to persist and allow low risk gains – such as investing in boring undervalued stocks. Read Ben Graham’s books for great investing ideas.
There is also what seems like an increase in manipulation in the market. While it is bad that large organizations can manipulate the market they provide opportunities to those that step in after prices reflect manipulation (rather than efficient markets). It is seriously annoying when regulators allow manipulators to retroactively get out of bad trades (like when there was that huge flash crash and those engaging in high frequency “trading” front-running an manipulation in reality but not called that because it is illegal). Those that were smart enough to buy stocks those high frequency traders sold should have been able to profit from their smart decision. I definitely support a very small transaction tax for investment trades – it would raise revenue and serve reduce non-value added high frequency trading (which just seems to allow a few speculators to siphon of market gains through front running). I am fine with speculation within bounds – I don’t like markets where more than half of the trades are speculators instead of investors.
The USA has extremely poor broadband service (compared to other rich countries). It is slow and expensive. Those that support economic policies more in line with the USA than other nations have a great deal of explaining to do about why the options are so bad. It is similar to the broken health care system.
Those that support politicians leading to this state for broadband say they support “free markets.” In actuality, they support anti-competitive practices by extremely large companies (oligopolistic behavior). Free market theory (the original form) requires that no individual company can dictate to the market. You have free competition – no barrier to entry, no restraint on entry, customers can buy where they want… But the politicians we elect instead support policies and practices that restrain free trade and prohibit good solutions in order to benefit those that pay the politicians well. And then we vote for those politicians.
Those wanting the anti-competitive markets have won in our political system. The main thing I wish was clearer was that we stop pretending these people have some capitalist leaning. They are anti-capitalist. If they want to support the policies they do I wish they would be required by the voters to at least be honest. Unfortunately the voters elect them with their dis-honest representations. If the politicians were honest they would have a more difficult time being elected (because voters want to pretend they like capitalism even while voting for politicians that just seek to give special benefits to those that pay the politicians. And then the politicians claim to support markets, and business and consumers when really they just favor making anti-market legislation and regulation to favor their contributors. As long as we vote for people that claim to support capitalism but undermine it at every step to help their friends we do deserve to suffer. I just wish we could convince enough of our fellow citizens that flashy propaganda and repeating lies over and over isn’t the same as facts and truth.
Given the anti-competitive policies in the USA, if they have much success they will probably just be bought (or maybe as others suggest fought in other anti-competitive ways, but buyouts are normally easiest for actually strong competitor) to allow anti-competitive pricing and service to continue. The only real hope is someone with actual power sees it in their interest to fight against the entrenched interests. Google is the best hope I think. It isn’t that Google has nearly as much political power as those interests but they are smart and have the advantage of just having to expose the anti-competitive behavior and apply pressure.
The narrative the politicians and voters say they support is capitalism. But the reality is just those with the gold make the rules. But when this is made obvious and continually pressed by someone with power, clout, intelligence and political savvy it makes politicians and regulators hesitant to continue business as usual. Normally they just delay for a few months and then continue the corrupt practices. Google, plus others, plus lots of individual interest can fight that off – but it takes perseverance.
USA consumers pay huge fees on debit cards not found in most other rich countries. Other countries provide debit cards with much cheaper fees than USA banks mandate now given their anti-competitive oligopolistic pricing power. I haven’t seen anyone (that isn’t in the pay of banks) arguing for keeping excessive fees in place. But there are lots of people being paid by the banks (including most likely, “your” representative).
David Frum, special assistant to President George Bush, is exactly right.
[banks] are lobbying hard to repeal the cap on debit card fees in advance of the July date when Dodd-Frank goes into effect… Congress is not swayed by arguments. It is swayed by clout — and on this issue, it is the banks who have the clout.
Based on that experiment, economist Robert Shapiro of Sonecon estimates that about 56% of the value of reduced swipe fees will reach the final consumer. That’s the basis for his calculation of savings of $230 per household. That’s also the basis for his further calculation that reduced swipe fees will translate into a one-time gain of 250,000 new jobs.
The new Republican House majority appropriately mistrusts government regulation. But if the financial crisis taught us anything, it should have taught that financial regulation is different from other forms of regulation. Invisible charges imposed by a financial cartel is not my idea of a free market.
The caps were part of the huge bailout taxpayers gave banks and were meant to be a partial watering down of a few of the smaller favors their bought and paid for politicians had given them over the years (as “punishment” for their misdeeds).
Most of the practices deemed unfair or deceptive by the Federal Reserve have disappeared from new credit card offers since federal passage of the Credit CARD Act last year, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Two Steps Forward: After the Credit CARD Act, Cards Are Safer and More Transparent – But Challenges Remain.
The report finds that issuers have eliminated practices such as “hair trigger” penalty rate increases (disproportionate charges for minor account violations), unfair payment allocation, and raising interest rates on existing balances. However, Pew’s research also highlights a sharp rise in cash advance fees, continued widespread use of other penalty interest rates and an emerging trend of credit card companies failing to disclose penalty interest rates in their online terms and conditions.
One interesting tidbit from the report which studied the 12 largest banks and 12 largest credit unions: together these institutions control more than 90 percent of the nation’s outstanding credit card debt.
Less than 25 percent of all cards examined had an overlimit fee, which is down from more than 80 percent of cards in July 2009. Additionally, mandatory arbitration clauses, which can limit a consumer’s right to settle disputes in court, are now found in 10 percent of cards compared to 68 percent in July 2009.
At least 94% of bank cards and 46% of credit union cards (once again showing credit unions are likely to be a better option – though not always)came with interest rates that could go up as a penalty for late payments or other violations. But nearly half these warnings failed to inform the consumer of the actual penalty interest rate or how high it could climb.
Bank cash advance and balance transfer fees increased on average by one-third during this period, from 3% of each transaction to 4%. Credit union cash advance fees went up by one quarter, from 2% to 2.5%. Both increases (which again show how poorly banks fair in comparison) are unconscionable given the incredible low costs of money today. You should not pay these ludicrously high fees.
Banks continue to pay our politicians well to make sure they continue doling out special favors to the large banks. It is up to you, and your neighbors whether you hold politicians accountable for the actions they took to create the climate for the credit crisis and the huge favors granted (with your money) by politicians to those investment bankers. The bankers count on their money buying the politicians. I would have to say they are smart to believe that, though there is a small chance the invulnerability they feel is possible to pierce with enough foolish moves by the bankers and their friends (but in order for that to happen people would have to actually vote to elect ethical, intelligent and patriotic politicians instead of those who play the public for fools). I would put my money on the public again using their votes to elect those that will enrich special interests that pay the politicians at the expense of the country.
To protect themselves from getting piles of garbage loans shoveled their way when they buy mortgages, Fannie and Freddie require lenders or loan servicers to sign contracts requiring those firms to repurchase loans that don’t meet certain standards relating to borrower incomes, job status or assets. Loans that were extended fraudulently, or deemed to have been predatory, are also candidates for buybacks.
Surprise, surprise: banks don’t want to repurchase these loans. So when Fannie or Freddie identify problem mortgages and request repayment, a battle royal begins. Banks may argue, for example, that the repayment requests have flaws of their own.
But for us as taxpayers, watching this battle from the sidelines, one growing concern is how aggressively Fannie and Freddie will pursue their requests. If banks refuse to buy back flawed loans, taxpayers will have to cover more of the losses.
According to March 31 figures from Freddie, for instance, the amount of problem loans that it has asked other firms to buy back stood at $4.8 billion — up 26 percent from $3.8 billion just three months earlier.
Banks have been unwilling to mark all of the bad loans they have and mortgage securities they hold to their true values because that would require a loss,” said Kurt Eggert, a professor at the Chapman University School of Law. “But this is about banks trying to avoid losses and having the taxpayers absorb them.”
Michael Cosgrove, a Freddie spokesman, said that the company is aggressive about enforcing its right to recover on questionable loans because it has a duty to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars. “These reviews are more important than ever; there is no reason why taxpayers should pay for decisions that led to the sale of bad loans to Freddie Mac,” he said.
$4.8 billion? That seems amazingly low for all the fraudulent activity these banks are suppose to have engaged in. But so long as they can foist the problem loans into the taxpayers hands they can claim to deserve billions in bonuses for themselves. The staggering magnitude of the special favors bought by the bankers is amazing. The politicians have shown they are supporting their banking friends while saying a few tough words. And most likely the politicians and bankers will be celebrating another successful election this fall. If we want to change the outcome we can. But we don’t seem interested in doing so.
Related: Paying Back Direct Cash from Taxpayers Does not Excuse Bank Misdeeds – The Best Way to Rob a Bank is as An Executive at One – Sabotaging Regulated Financial Markets Leads to Predictable Consequences – Congress Eases Bank Laws – 1999
Charlie Munger’s Thoughts on Just About Everything by Morgan Housel
Benjamin Graham used to say, “It’s not the bad investment ideas that fail; it’s the good ideas that get pushed into excess.” And that’s a lot of what happened here.
Some economic distortions come from the masses believing that other people are right. Others come from the need to make a living through behavior that may be less than socially desirable. I’ve always been skeptical of conventional wisdom. You have to be able to keep your head on when everyone else is losing theirs.
Take soccer as an example. It’s a tremendously competitive sport, and often times one team tries to work mayhem on the other team’s best player. The referee’s job is to limit this mayhem and rein in extreme forms of competition.
Regulation is similar. Most ambitious young men will be more aggressive than they should. That’s what happened with investment banking. I mean, look at Lehman Brothers. Everyone did what they damn well wanted until the whole place was pathological about its extremeness.
A lot of this [financial collapse] can be blamed on accountants. Accountants as a whole have been trained with too much math and not enough horse sense. If some of these insane accounting practices were never allowed, huge messes could have been avoided. Bankers have become quite good at manipulating accountants
Learning has never been work for me. It’s play. I was born innately curious. If that doesn’t work for you, figure out your own damn system.
More good thoughts from Warren Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway.