Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho recently helped pass a major bank deregulation bill: The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, or S.155. On Twitter, he heralded the bill as “#Relief4MainStreet.” As a former bank worker, I can tell you that this is either delusional or a flat-out lie. The bill promises neither economic growth nor consumer protection. It would be more appropriately named the “Big Banking Love Fest, Risk the Economy and Burn the Consumer Act.”
I worked as a Wells Fargo personal banker in Boise for five years. During that time, I watched as bank management preyed on their own customer base in the name of shareholder benefits and profits. I witnessed everyday Idahoans struggle to make ends meet – to pay off their mortgage, put gas in their car and feed their families – due to a financial crisis engineered by Wall Street’s ineptitude and rampant greed. In September 2016, Wells Fargo became a national headline after it was revealed that a pervasive system of aggressive sales quotas had resulted in the creation of 3.5 million fake accounts.
As a witness to both scandals, I can tell you that banks need more regulation, not less. During my tenure at Wells Fargo, multiple employees, including myself, spoke out about the numerous unethical and fraudulent practices we routinely witnessed at the bank – including aggressive sales goals and fake accounts. At best, our reports were ignored. At worst, workers were retaliated against or terminated for speaking up. Without restraints or oversight, I know firsthand that bank executives will do whatever it takes to generate as large a profit as possible. This is dangerous for Main Street.
Yet Sen. Crapo has decided to put his own constituents at risk by pushing legislation that would exclude most of the major American banks from oversight by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Many of the same banks that received taxpayer-funded bailouts a decade ago will once more be allowed to operate with impunity. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised: Crapo has received millions in campaign contributions from the financial industry over the last decade.
What’s worse is that our elected officials had multiple chances to improve the bill and protect working families. They could have passed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s amendment to roll back the offshoring of bank worker jobs. They could have passed Sen. Bob Menendez’s amendment to deny payouts to banks like Wells Fargo or Santander that continue to use the same systems of aggressive sales goals from the 2016 account fraud scandal.
But many senators refused to even consider modifying the bill with these common-sense improvements. In doing so, they proved that their true constituency are their largest financial donors, not the American people.
I fear that our elected officials have not learned the lessons of 2008. In addition to this deregulation legislation, the Trump administration is systematically loosening restraints on the financial industry, quietly rolling back the protections put in place to curtail dangerous risk-taking behavior by the big banks. Mick Mulvaney, the current head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is gutting and dismantling the agency, ironically turning it into an entity that protects the financial industry, not consumers.
As a result, we could very well be headed toward another financial crisis. The people who will suffer won’t be wealthy bankers; they’ll be ordinary working families.
By introducing and passing this bill, Sen. Crapo has shown his absolute lack of concern for his constituents and the American people. As S.155 heads into the House, I urge our representatives to put people over profits. Gambling with our finances is a losing bet. And if you side with the big banks, you better believe we will vote you out of a job.
Brian McKay, a former Wells Fargo worker from Boise, is a member of the Committee for Better Banks, a coalition of bank workers and consumers working to improve conditions in the banking industry.