Opinion

David Rohde

Break up the big banks

David Rohde
May 10, 2012 18:39 UTC

UPDATE: JPMorgan’s surprise announcement late Thursday of a $2 billion trading loss – and the drop in stocks it sparked – is yet another sign of the need for reform.

The numbers are startling. HSBC, the world’s fifth-largest bank, failed to review thousands of internal anti-money-laundering alerts, according to a Reuters investigation published last week.

The bank did not file legally required “suspicious activity reports” to U.S. law enforcement officials. It hired “gullible, poorly trained, and otherwise incompetent personnel” to run its anti-money-laundering effort. Each year, hundreds of billions of dollars flowed through the bank without being properly monitored.

HSBC is not alone. Last month, U.S. regulators accused Citigroup of having major lapses in its anti-money-laundering systems as well. Under an agreement with the Comptroller of the Currency, the agency that regulates national U.S. banks, Citigroup agreed to improve its monitoring operations, but did not pay a monetary penalty or admit any wrongdoing.

For critics of mega-banks, the reports are the latest sign of big banks’ ability to defy regulation, engage in dubious business practices and face few consequences.

America’s good bank

David Rohde
Jan 27, 2012 21:36 UTC

It didn’t take a penny in federal bailout money. It grew throughout the financial crisis. It has consistently garnered top customer service rankings. And Fortune magazine just named it one of the 20 best companies to work for in America. Meet America’s good bank: USAA.

USAA is a San Antonio, Texas-based bank, insurance, and financial services company with 22,000 employees, serving 8 million current and former members of the military and their families. The company’s roots go back to 1922, when 25 army officers agreed to insure one another’s cars when no traditional companies would. Since then, USAA, or the United Services Automobile Association, has steadily grown.

By its very definition, USAA serves the middle class. It does business only with current and former members of the military and their families. Studies have shown that the U.S.’s all-volunteer military is dominated by members of the middle class, not the elite.

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