Wall Street Journal

Presidential contender Donald Trump doesn't have a public record to analyze, but he does have a business record. The Journal, in its analysis of that record, shows Trump at his weakest, and his most heartless, in his dealings with Citigroup. In 1990, Trump's Atlantic City-fueled debt load was about to get the best of him, according to Citi banker Robert McSween. Trump arrived at Citi's office one night, upon being summoned to work out a debt restructuring, "so down he was almost crying," McSween told the paper.

Citi had also financed most of Trump's purchase, in the early 1990s, of the Plaza Hotel in New York. At one point, as Trump was looking for someone to buy the property, Citi pushed for a sale to foreign investors; however, the foreign buyers would not have much of a role for Trump in the Plaza's operations. That didn't sit well with Trump, who told Citi, "you're going to go through hell" before the sale would happen.

Trump attempted to persuade a Citi banker, Patricia Goldstein, to take his side. Trump reminded Goldstein that he'd helped get her ailing husband a spot in a hospice run by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, as he was dying of cancer. But as far as the sale of the Plaza was concerned, Goldstein wasn't interested in letting Trump cash in on that earlier favor. Moreoever, Goldstein was "nasty" to Trump, he told the Journal.

"I said, 'No one has ever spoken to me in that way. See what I do to you,'" he said. "I would see her at functions at various ballrooms throughout the city and I would say such things that some people were shocked," Trump said. When Goldstein herself died last year in a bicycle accident, Trump said, "I didn't send flowers."

Big banks are deepening their ties with online marketplace lenders like CAN Capital and OnDeck Capital. Most recently, JPMorgan Chase partnered with OnDeck to offer an online small business loan product. Regions Financial in Birmingham, Ala., last year teamed up with Fundation Group. Wells Fargo has had a referral relationship with CAN Capital for five years; when Wells denies a loan applicant, they refer the applicant to CAN.

CAN Capital's chief executive, Daniel DeMeo, said he's in talks to expand that type of referral business partnership with other banks. "Every major bank is working on this," said John Barlow, an industry consultant.

Bank of America is handling the situation differently, however. Chairman Brian Moynihan has said B of A will not do any kind of online lending itself, as partnerships with startup online lenders could hurt its reputation.

Citigroup is taking the open-floorplan office concept to an extreme; perhaps it's the bank's way of fighting back against the work-from-home concept? As part of the renovation of its Tribeca office tower, Citi is eliminating actual offices. No one will have an office with a door, not even CEO Michael Corbat. Most employees won't have their own desks.

The open-floorplan is also expected to save money by cramming more bodies into one space and raise energy levels, and possibly raise stress levels, too. "You're going to be forced to bump into people," Corbat said.

Those uncomfortable encounters are actually intended to help spur personal contact among employees, he said. "I want people interacting around our business and ideas," he said.

New York Times

Blythe Masters has had trouble raising money from banks other than JPMorgan Chase for her blockchain startup, Digital Asset Holdings, unnamed sources told the paper. The reason may be due to JPMorgan getting a better deal than anyone else can snag. Citigroup and Goldman Sachs have both balked for that reason. Those banks and other potential investors have also expressed concerns about Digital Asset's software; Digital Asset is also said to have struggled with integrating the multiple startup tech companies that it's acquired.

JPMorgan Chase has invested $7.5 million and Masters hopes to raise up to $45 million. Digital Asset's head of business development said the assertion that it's having trouble raising money is inaccurate.

Here's another punch to the gut for American Express. Mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments has ended its 12-year partnership with Amex on its popular Fidelity Rewards credit card. The card, which pays 2% in cash back for every dollar spent, will now be issued through U.S. Bancorp. A Fidelity executive said the switch was made, in part, because Visa cards are more widely accepted than Amex cards and usage should rise after the change.

Last year, Amex's partnership with Costco was not renewed; and it lost a legal battle with the Justice Department over its ability to structure merchant contracts. Amex's stock was one of the worst performers in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2015.

Visa is a big investor in the effort to deliver Thin Mints to the world of electronic commerce. Visa and Dell have invested a total of $3 million in the upgrade of the online cookie-sales platform managed by the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. Visa's funding has helped the Girl Scouts add video games to the site, as well as videos, quizzes, music and more. The Girl Scouts have also added educational material about math and technology, to help girls get interested in those subjects.

"It's the perfect marriage between technology and a premier leadership program that teaches digital, social and money skills to girls," said Ellen Richey, vice chairwoman of risk and public policy at Visa.

Oh by the way, the Visa Checkout payments platform is used on the Girl Scouts site to process cookie sales. Both Visa and Dell are also assigning their employees to work volunteer hours at Girl Scout workshops, including one that taught website design.

Two former JPMorgan Chase bankers at a branch in Brooklyn have been charged for stealing money from accounts assigned to elderly customers, using forged ATM cards. The bankers are alleged to have worked with two accomplices to steal money from accounts that received regular deposits from the Social Security Administration. The suspects, who have been indicted in New York state court, are said to have withdrawn about $400,000 over two years.

Barclays has been ordered to pay about $13.8 million by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority for failing to stop the switching of customers' money between mutual funds, in violation of suitability standards. Finra said the penalty includes $10 million in restitution to affected customers and $3.75 million in fines. Barclays violated broker-dealer rules that are intended to protect customers from being charged unnecessary fees. In this case, Barclays failed to act on thousands of alerts about potentially unsuitable transactions, Finra said.

Elsewhere ...

Krebs on Security and Boing Boing: PayPal's security measures for keeping hackers out of your account is, let's just say, lacking. Consider what happened to Brian Krebs, who writes the Krebs on Security blog. Hackers forced their way into Krebs' PayPal account not once, but twice over the holiday and attempted to send his money to a jihadi hacker and to a dead ISIS propagandist.

All this in spite of the fact that Krebs used PayPal's two-factor authentication key fob and contacted PayPal (by telephone, for crying out loud) and was assured by PayPal that they would monitor his account for potential future hack jobs.

PayPal's authentication job didn't do much good, even though Krebs crafted a long and complicated password (a password that probably received an A-plus grade from the site's automatic password monitor). The hacker simply called PayPal's customer support line and was able to reset his password by giving them the last four digits of his Social Security number and the last four digits of an old credit card account.

Sadly, PayPal isn't the only financial institution (or utility or other service provider) that's lazy and behind the times when it comes to customer authentication and protecting customers' data from identity thieves, Krebs wrote on Dec. 28.

Bergen (N.J.) Record: It was a busy year in 2015 for bank deals. Gerald Lipkin, chairman and CEO of Valley National in Wayne, N.J., predicts more of the same in 2016. "I would not be surprised to see 300 more banks disappear, maybe more," Lipkin said. "It's a trend driven by the higher cost of operations; the smaller banks cannot compete." Lipkin also predicts more branch closures this year. "Where you used to be on every corner, now you may need only one branch in a town," he said.

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