Tigers and Colberts

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank put his renowned quick wit to the test last week as he once again squared off against Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert. The two famously tangled several years ago, and in that encounter Frank did not appear to be amused by Colbert's antics.

But as a guest (via satellite) on "The Colbert Report," Frank this time appeared to hold his own, even getting a few zingers in at the host's expense. After Frank said there has to be a financial consumer protection agency to prevent abuses by banks, Colbert insisted that was "just the nature of banks."

"That's like asking a tiger to change its spots or to penalize a shark for having teeth," the comedian said.

After a moment Frank said, "The trouble with analogies like that is they make no sense, so it's kind of hard to refute them."

Colbert insisted that "they make no sense to you, because I just won."

"I don't know what you won," Frank said. "Banks aren't tigers. Credit cards aren't stripes."

Colbert then tried a different approach.

"OK, they are grizzly bears devouring our children," he said. "Banks are consumers. They consume our life savings when we don't read the fine print."

But Frank was unwilling to let Colbert off the hook.

"I'm still trying to figure out why you can't tell the difference between Chase Manhattan and a tiger," Frank said. "If I were you, I'd be very careful going to the zoo."

FDIC Resignations

After being at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for little more than a year, Michael Bradfield, the agency's general counsel, announced Friday he has resigned and plans to leave by the end of this week.

He was the second senior FDIC official to depart last week after a relatively short tenure. Joseph A. Jiampietro, senior adviser for markets to Chairman Sheila Bair, said he, too, would leave Aug. 13. Jiampietro, who provided key support in attempting to sell assets of failed banks, joined the FDIC in March 2009.

Both men won praise from Bair as they announced their departures. Jiampietro's "input on marketing and resolution strategies and substantive expertise on capital markets has contributed to the FDIC's ability to address many complex and difficult failed-bank resolutions," Bair said.

Commenting on Bradfield, who previously served as general counsel of the Federal Reserve Board under former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, Bair said "his knowledge of domestic and international banking issues and command of the regulatory framework has served the FDIC well through a period of challenging resolution activity and the many legal issues stemming from these bank failures."

Citi Phantom

Citigroup Inc. has some explaining to do about who's been handling its customer service for the last 20-odd years.

Wall Street Journal reporter Barry Newman went on a manhunt to Sioux Falls, S.D., the headquarters of Citi's card unit, in search of the enigmatic S. Larson, whose loopy signature has been scrawled along the bottom of Citi correspondence for decades with only a simple job description, "customer service."

Larson has become an object of Internet folklore because Citi customers have been unable to reach anyone by that name, prompting speculation that he or she does not really exist. Customers found it odd that Larson has apparently been working at the bank for decades but still appears to have the same job.

The story chronicled failed attempts by many would-be gumshoes to uncover the real identity of S. Larson. Some said it is a made-up name to put on the letterhead, since real customer service representatives are so loathed they often receive untoward gifts, such as a dead rat, in the mail. Others said Larson was real, but differed on whether it was Sharon, Steve or Sandy Larson.

Citi said it was "proud" of S. Larson. It would not elaborate, citing privacy concerns.

California Bound

Christina Romer, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, is heading back to University of California Berkley Sept. 3, the White House said Friday, to resume her job there as an economics professor.

In a press release, President Obama praised Romer's service. "I'm gratified that she will continue to offer her insights and advice as a member of my Economic Recovery Advisory Board," he said.

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