Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC, called Thursday’s appearance by the six largest U.S. banks’ CEOs in front of the House Financial Services Committee the “sequel that nobody asked for.”
As sequels go, emulating a Hollywood tradition, Thursday’s encore delivered a markedly longer run time — a shade over five hours, while Wednesday’s Senate banking panel hearing clocked in at under three — and arguably fewer “gotcha” moments.
Springboarding off Wednesday’s most contentious exchange — between Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon on overdraft fees — Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, used her time to tease that she would reintroduce her Overdraft Protection Act in an effort to force more transparency surrounding banks’ offerings and root out insufficient-funds charges she assailed as “outrageously priced, predatory and beyond the scale of … reasonable.”
Citing that Citi and Bank of America have stopped collecting overdraft fees on debit-card transactions, Maloney cornered Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf, asking, “Why has your bank made the opposite decision, seemingly thinking a sandwich or a cup of coffee at a deli should result in a $35 overdraft fee?”
Scharf countered that the bank last year introduced a no-overdraft account option, and offers another feature called “Overdraft Rewind” that allows the bank to look back 24 hours for incoming direct deposits in overdraft-charging accounts.
“We have options that are readily available for customers who do not want to overdraft,” Scharf said. “We are constantly looking at ways to be more consumer friendly.”
Dimon, who was taken to task Wednesday when Warren noted JPMorgan collected $1.5 billion in overdraft fees during the pandemic, said in his opening remarks Thursday that his bank had waived $400 million in overdraft fees “for COVID and non-COVID reasons.”
“Only @jpmorgan would brag that they only charged about $1.5 billion in overdraft fees during a global pandemic and economic crisis, instead of the roughly $2 billion they usually take,” Warren tweeted Thursday.
Citi CEO Jane Fraser said her bank is reconsidering a shareholder proposal that would require its board oversee an audit analyzing the bank’s adverse impacts on people of color. The proposal by activist investor CtW Investment Group drew 38% support last month — but only after the bank tried and failed to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission to exclude the proposal.
“We didn’t think it was needed to have a separate audit, but it is something we’re looking at again, given it was brought up by our shareholders,” Fraser said, adding that the bank “just put out another very extensive update on our $1 billion action for racial equity plan.”
Closing the gap in racial equity would have led the U.S. to generate $16 trillion since 2000, Citi said in a report last year.
Dimon, however, asserted that such an audit would add “bureaucracy and B.S.” to JPMorgan’s efforts to narrow the racial wealth gap. The bank vowed in October to contribute $30 billion — through a combination of loans, investments and philanthropy made to Black and Latinx communities — toward that end.
“We're devoted to the principle of trying to do a better job for the Black and Latinx communities,” Dimon told Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-NY. “We've announced an extraordinary amount of programs you're welcome to come and look at. … This kind of thing is not going to make it much better over time. It just adds another whole layer of unnecessary cost.”
More on race
Race made another appearance during Thursday’s hearing when Rep. Al Green, D-TX, asked each of the six CEOs if they would atone, were they to discover their bank had once owned slaves or used them as collateral.
The question stemmed from an admission Dimon made in 2019 at the last gathering of big-bank CEOs in front of the House panel — centering on two Louisiana banks JPMorgan acquired that served plantations from the 1830s to the Civil War and used more than 13,000 slaves as collateral, ultimately owning about 1,250 of them when borrowers defaulted.
Three of the six CEOs — Fraser, Scharf and Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan — gave unequivocal “yes” answers as to whether they would atone. Dimon told Green his bank “apologized profusely” when it learned of its past dealings. “I would love to come see you and figure out what you think we could do that would atone properly to the families that were damaged by these activities 200 years ago,” he added.
Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, however, struck down the line of questioning, noting that the bank was founded in 1869, six years after emancipation.
“The bank has never owned slaves, so I don’t think it’s something that I’m in a position to opine on,” he said.
Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, too, cited the 1935 launch of his bank but quickly followed with a “yes.”
Taxes and China
McHenry, the panel’s ranking member, asserted that Democrats were encouraging banks to lean to the left on social issues. “When you mix business and politics, you get politics,” he said Thursday. “Our political waters are quite troubling and we don’t need the business world to become the political world.”
A number of GOP lawmakers asked the CEOs if they were concerned about President Joe Biden’s proposal to raise corporate taxes as high as 28% on businesses.
“The tax increase is actually four times what the tax decrease was from 2017,” Dimon said. “If you want to have a healthy, growing, competitive America, you need a global competitive tax rate because at the margin … it will drive capital and eventually brains and [research and development] and investment overseas, and that would be a mistake.”
Likewise, several Republicans raised concerns about China’s potential impact on global finance and a lack of transparency into the country’s banking practices.
“Transparency in markets is always extremely important, and more transparency is better,” Solomon said, hedging that vulnerabilities in China’s system should be “observed safely.”
“I think that we understand that we operate in very globally interconnected markets to the degree that some of the issues you highlight do become issues that have an impact,” he said.
Back to the office
Perhaps the event with the broadest impact since the last House hearing to feature the six biggest banks’ CEOs is the coronavirus pandemic — and at least one executive revealed details of his bank’s timeline to return to the office.
Bank of America plans to return its top New York managers June 1, Moynihan said Thursday, adding that some vaccinated employees have already returned after voluntarily notifying the company they’ve received the shots.
“We have about 50,000 teammates that put the information in and [have] given the ability for us to call them back,” Moynihan said. “Our goal is by after Labor Day to effectively be back to where we were in January of 2020.”
By comparison, JPMorgan reopened its offices to all employees May 17 — with the caveat that locations fill to no more than 50% capacity. The bank’s operating committee said it would expect all U.S.-based employees to be in the office on a consistent rotational schedule by early July.
Goldman Sachs is asking U.S. employees to prepare to return to the office by June 14.
Citi, for which Friday is a company “reset” holiday, has said most employees will work at least three days a week from the office and as many as two days remote after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.