In the 1960s there was a beloved sitcom on CBS called The Beverly Hillbillies, a situation comedy in an era when the networks produced shows intended to make all of America laugh. For those who are unfamiliar with the classic, it was a show ’bout a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed. Then one day he was shooting for some food, and up through the ground came a bubbling crude.
Oil that was, black gold, Texas tea.
Jed became an instant millionaire, and he packed up his Clampett family and moved to a mansion in Beverly Hills. Thinking about the show last night, I came to appreciate the brilliance of its characters and the social commentary they provided. The show’s humor was derived from class conflicts, and the writers were sympathetic to the sort of people that Hillary Clinton and the corporate media regard as “deplorables.”
Americans loved the Clampetts and they enjoyed watching the privileged and entitled being ridiculed.
The Clampetts’ next-door neighbors were Milburn and Margaret Drysdale. Margaret was a blue-blooded Bostonian, and openly disdained the Clampetts, who she regarded as the peasantry. She was forced to tolerate them because her husband was the manager of the local bank, where the Clampetts had $96 million on deposit (about $608.5 million in today’s dollars.)
Milburn, who was referred to as Mr. Drysdale, served as a foil to highlight the Clampetts’ fundamental decency and innocence. He was a soulless individual so driven by wealth that when he had a panic attack, he was given a stack of money to sniff, and he instantly recovered. He was shameless in his obsequiousness to the Clampetts, willing to give in to their often-questionable demands and requests to keep their business at his Commerce Bank.
By today’s banking standards, Mr. Drysdale wasn’t all that bad a guy. As soulless as he was, there were no episodes of him ripping off the Clampetts, putting them into questionable investments or diverting their funds for his personal use.
America today has few Mr. Drysdales, as community banks were gobbled up over the years by folks like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who became a billionaire because of all his wheeling and dealing. Nevertheless, Dimon and Mr. Drysdale share some similarities.
I could imagine Mr. Drysdale taking a knee if the Beverly Hillbillies had a Black Lives Matter episode, much like Dimon did at the height of the BLM movement. I could also imagine Mr. Drysdale promptly apologizing to China for a disparaging comment he made about the communist country, just like Dimon did.
However, unlike Mr. Drysdale’s customers, those who entrust their money to Dimon’s bank aren’t assured their money is safe and sound.
As I warned about last May, Chase customers across the country have been victimized by scammers who dupe them with seemingly legitimate text messages from the bank that tricks them into giving up confidential information, allowing the scammers to clear out their victims’ bank accounts. Local media have been all over the story, and CBS News featured a California woman whose entire retirement savings at Chase was looted.
Chase wasn’t willing to make the customers whole. In the case of the California victim CBS profiled, the bank blamed her for her victimhood, saying she didn’t “take adequate steps” to protect her account.
Rest assured, if scammers had looted the Clampetts’ account, Miss Hathaway, Mr. Drysdale’s assistant, would have made things right.
A banking client today with the equivalent of more than $600 million on deposit wouldn’t be worth Dimon’s attention. In fact, Dimon says he wasn’t all that familiar with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted pedophile who was known internally as a “whale” of a client responsible for delivering billions of dollars of business. Chase recently agreed to pay Epstein’s sexual abuse victims $290 million to resolve allegations the bank helped facilitate Epstein’s activities, of course without admitting any wrongdoing.
Another fundamental difference between Mr. Drysdale and Dimon is that the former was never featured ripping off his customers. The same can’t be said of Chase under Dimon’s leadership.
The Justice Department three years ago alleged that Chase engaged in a massive scheme to defraud the precious metals and U.S. Treasuries markets, for which the bank got off with a $900 million fine — a wrist slap for a bank of its size. Of course, Chase made no admission of wrongdoing.
Then there was the $13 billlion fine Chase paid in 2013 to federal and state authorities to settle claims that it had misled investors in the years leading up to the financial crisis. Of course, there was no admission of wrongdoing – JPMorgan Chase under Dimon just likes to make in-kind donations to its regulators.
But let’s not just pick on Jamie Dimon. My head is still spinning after reading this article about Bank of America, the nation’s second largest bank behind Chase, being order to pay $250 million in penalties for double charging insufficient fund fees, withholding reward bonuses and opening accounts without customers’ knowledge or permission.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra said that Bank of America’s activities were “illegal and undermine customer trust,” practices he vowed the CFPB will put an end to across the banking system.
Yeah, good luck with that, Mr. Chopra.
As reported by NPR, Bank of America paid $727 million to the CFPB in 2014 for illegally deceiving roughly 1.4 million customers through deceptive marketing products. The bank was also ordered to pay a $20 million civil money penalty for charging 1.9 million consumers for credit monitoring and credit reporting services they never received, according to the CFPB.
Bank of America was also slapped with two other penalties in 2022 totaling $235 million: a $225 million fine for automatically and unlawfully freezing customer accounts with a fraud detection program during the COVID-19 pandemic and a $10 million civil penalty for unlawfully processing out-of-state garnishment.
Hard as this is to believe, Bank of America’s code of conduct, signed by CEO Brian T. Moynihan, states: “We believe that integrity and the disciplined management of risk form the foundation of our business. We are aware that our decisions and actions affect people’s lives every day. We believe in making decisions that are clear, fair and grounded in the principles of shared success, responsible citizenship and community building.”
Then there’s Morgan Stanley. As reported by CNBC’s Scott Cohn, a former Morgan Stanley financial advisor has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison after admitting he ran a $7 million Ponzi scheme at the firm for more than a decade.
Although the scam targeted Morgan Stanley clients and the advisor admitted using a Morgan Stanley product to carry it out, the firm has fought efforts to hold it responsible.
Morgan Stanley does Jamie Dimon proud.
Cohn reported that victims say not only has Morgan Stanley resisted their efforts to recover money from the firm, it is also holding them responsible for lines of credit that the advisor fraudulently convinced them to open. Morgan Stanley is America’s sixth-largest brokerage firm, with more than $1.3 trillion under management. The firm made $11 billion in profits last year.
“I can liken the whole process to being assaulted in a back alley while you’re on mind-altering drugs like roofies,” Caitlin Andrews, 43, of Carolina Beach, North Carolina, a single mother of two boys who lost virtually her entire $1.7 million net worth,” told CNBC. “And then one day you wake up in the police station and you have to watch the video again and again and go over bank statements of when things happened and listen to phone calls again and again. It’s traumatizing.”
Wouldn’t you know it, Morgan Stanley claims its culture, values, and reputation differentiates the company from its peers. Directly from the mouth of CEO James Gorman.
However, the Starkman Approved 2023 award for the banker who best talks out of both sides of their mouth goes to Carl Jordan, U.S. Bank’s executive vice president, branch and small business banking for California.
Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank pulled out of a poor and historic Black neighborhood in San Francisco two months ago because of “consolidation” resulting from its acquisition of Union Bank. When the acquisition was announced in February, Jordan crowed in a news release: “This is a game changer for California. It’s going to completely transform the market for customers. I am in awe thinking about how far we’ve come – and where we’re going.”
Jordan obviously wasn’t referring to poor Black customers in San Francisco.
The banking world sure has changed in the more than half century since Beverly Hillbillies first aired. In those days, the bad people featured on the popular Western shows were the ones who robbed the banks. Now it’s the banks who are robbing, deceiving, and exploiting their customers.