The War Continues
Washington is done — at least for now — feuding over financial reform and other consumer protections, but not all bank executives are done feuding with Washington.
On Thursday, BB&T Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Kelly King said lawmakers are to blame if BB&T is forced to charge more for basic services to make up for lost revenue or higher expenses. For example, he said, BB&T might consider slapping a $5 monthly fee on debit cards.
"It's not hard to potentially think of the irony of this," he said on his company's earnings call. "Oftentimes the congressmen do not understand the unintended consequences of their actions, as it will probably drive up the costs to the consumers."
Other institutions, however, appeared eager to put public-policy vitriol behind them. Wells Fargo & Co. Chairman and Chief Executive John Stumpf — whose predecessor described last year's stress tests as "asinine" — took an especially conciliatory tone.
"There are parts in reg reform they really got right," Stumpf told analysts Wednesday. "And I want to compliment those who are involved in that."
Stumpf singled out the establishment of the Financial Stability Oversight Council as a winner. He is still waiting to see how the new consumer financial protection bureau shapes up, "but the concept," he said, "that's all good."
As Stumpf noted at another point, Wells is still trying to figure out the financial impact of the reform law, too.
But perhaps there are advantages to accepting what the bank cannot change.
A cardinal rule of public relations is to not give committed hecklers a forum. But JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s global mortgage chief, Dave Lowman, got roped into providing one by his boss.
At the company shareholders meeting in April, California homeowner and real estate agent Jose Vega said that JPMorgan Chase had put his house into foreclosure, though he had been granted a trial loan modification and was making payments.
JPMorgan Chase keeps customer service representatives on hand at such meetings to field consumer complaints, but Vega got Chairman and Chief Executive Jamie Dimon to promise a high-level executive would schedule a meeting to discuss the company's policies.
Whoops. Vega has referred to the July 28 tete-a-tete as a "moral victory," and a group called the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization has issued a release saying Lowman "will meet face to face with a delegation of community leaders who have been directly impacted by Chase's harmful corporate practices."
It seems unlikely this was the sort of reception Chase had in mind, but the bank declined to comment.
Analysts on U.S. Bancorp's earnings conference call Wednesday wanted to know whether troublingly weak credit line utilization rates at the Minneapolis company would ever improve.
Chief Financial Officer Andrew Cecere had a very CFO-ish answer, comparing the 27% rate in the second quarter to the year-ago rate of 35%, but pointing out that the pace of decline has been slowing.
Chief Executive Richard K. Davis couldn't help but jump in with a more colorful response that could barely contain his inner teenager. "Oh my God!" he exclaimed, in a shocked tone more commonly associated with Twitter postings about celebrity hookups than conference calls about bank earnings, drawing peals of laughter from his end of the speakerphone. "And these are people that have money available! They're cash-rich! And by the way, we have the benefit of watching their cash flows before their credit flows, and they are not reducing their cash balances!"
Calm returned as Davis reassessed the situation. "Let's think about it just anecdotally," he said, seemingly instructing himself as much as the analysts. "There's got to be a fatigue factor, where you've just got to start reinvesting."