Fed vs. Fed: Of course the Federal Reserve has oversight problems, writes financial services litigator Mitchell Berns: the agency holds contradictory roles as regulator and enforcer. "Doing both together means that the Fed is inevitably required to critique its own cooking," Berns observes. "That's a conflict that often doesn't end well." Fed regulators have to develop relationships with banks in order to spot and fix potential problems, he writes. Those close ties can become an issue when banks nosedive and it's time for the Fed to get tough. Berns also points out that when a crisis does occur, regulators may be found culpable; is the Fed capable of objectively evaluating its own performance? American Banker readers have their doubts. "The current system is a perfect example of regulatory capture," writes commenter "masaccio." "Wall Street bankers are not afraid of regulation or prosecution from their close friends and protectors at the Fed." Commenter "jdavidson" argues that the Fed's dual mandate to control inflation and maintain low unemployment constitutes an additional conflict of interest.
The Big Bank Conundrum: The success of big banks is puzzling to community banker Kevin Tynan: they charge higher-than-average fees and their customers regularly express dissatisfaction. "Only in the topsy-turvy, Alice-in-Wonderland world of banking would the most disliked financial institutions end up at the top of the food chain," he writes. ("Also applies to cable and cellular companies," Rick Sharga, an executive at a real-estate-auction site, chimes in on Twitter.) Tynan suggests that big banks owe their dominance in the marketplace to government bailouts and other support from regulators and legislators. Readers generally agree with Tynan's overall point, but they have their own explanations for big banks' victories over community lenders. "As far as money is concerned, it's no surprise that consumers would feel safer selecting a bank with a household name and the convenience of being just around the corner no matter where you are, as well as having considerable support from the government," writes "Dylan Lerner." Community banks also have themselves to blame, according to commenter "dougknuth": "Unfortunately the majority of community banks are terribly inept and incompetent when it comes to business processes, client services and innovation." He says he knows of one community bank so afraid of client calls that it has refused to publish its customer service phone numbers.
Also on the blog: We've all heard that mobile technology is the future of banking, but what can banks do now to prepare for the shift? Tech executive Glen Fossella recommends that banks focus on developing interactive video for smartphones and tablets, among other strategies. Meanwhile, columnist Dave Martin assures readers nervous about the impact of cutting-edge technology that while it will undoubtedly transform the industry, customer relationships will remain at its center.
Mandatory retirement ages and term limits are intended to help keep bank boards on the ball, but Eric R. Fischer says the strategy can backfire. Key members can get forced out by the requirements, while boards remain passive about dealing with problem directors head-on.
Consumers only sign arbitration clauses because they don't believe that one little contract can really prevent them from going to court, a new study by St. John's University professor Jeff Sovern suggests.
Banks are still in the dark about how regulators plan to coordinate on supervising and enforcing the Volcker Rule, Mayra Rodríguez Valladares writes in the final installment of her eight-part series on the law.
To err is human; to mitigate the impact of that error, divine, according to consultant Andrew Waxman. He identifies manual processes and inadequate oversight as well as low pay for support staff as the major contributing factors to human errors at banks.
Got an informed opinion on the business of banking? Submit to BankThink. Full submissions guidelines are available here.