In the House, lawmakers just made it clear you don't matter. Banks do

Sunday , June 11, 2017 - 5:00 AM4 comments

E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner

I had a strange experience earlier this week. I needed change. There was a line outside at the ATM, but I had a $100 bill and needed five twenties, so I pulled into the drive-thru. I handed the $100 bill to the teller and asked for twenties.

The teller asked me if I banked there. I said, “Yes, but I just need change.” The teller then informed me I couldn’t have change without giving him my debit card. I handed over the card, he did what tellers do, and I got my twenties and debit card back. I was incredulous, ranting that I shouldn’t need to show my debit card just to get change. It's cash. Isn’t the whole idea behind cash that you don’t need ID?

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I realize cash has become an anachronism. I remember when you paid with cash or a check at the grocery store in a world before ATMs or debit cards. You would stand in the checkout line and write out the amount of the purchase on the check in numbers and words. Cash was quicker. Now, the financial world has sped up to the point where even cash is slower than the card inserted into the chip reader.

If you misplaced cash, you assumed it was lost forever. You felt the loss strongly because that was money, no ID required, and it was gone. Even now, bank robbery stories focus on the cash. I remember when the U.S. Bank in Smith's here in Ogden was robbed about a year ago. The bank robber got away with about $450 in cash. A picture of him, barely disguised by sunglasses as the teller handed him bills, appeared in the Standard all over local media. He was apprehended shortly after his miniature heist.

But now our money flies around in electrons. While digital money is wonderfully convenient, it is pretty easy for some of those electrons and dollars to get lost in all of our transactions. Those lost electrons can be easily taken by large banks and financial institutions, but they get to do it without sunglasses or a ski mask covering their faces. No squad car will come to your house if you file a complaint that $13.85 vanished from your bank account.

Now before you start thinking I am going into a curmudgeonly rant, bemoaning the "good old days," just imagine this scenario: JPMorgan Chase dons a ski mask and bursts into a bank wielding a gun, telling everyone to freeze. Chase then demands not $450, but $4.5 billion.

To put that number in perspective, imagine the bank is huge, and every person living in the United States, roughly 331 million people, are in line waiting for the teller. The thief moves from person to person and tells each patron to hand over $13.85, or else!

Yes, $4.5 billion dollars is how much money JPMorgan Chase attempted to take from consumers in 2015 using unfair, deceptive and abusive practices. They would have succeeded had they not been caught by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. How do I know this? The bank admitted it in an order signed with the CFPB on July 8, 2015.

Of course, JPMorgan Chase didn't use a gun. It simply lied, claimed money was owed to them that wasn’t, sued a bunch of people, and then used the the power of the legal system to collect money from innocent people.

The CFPB, which caught Chase red-handed, didn’t exist before 2010. Only after banks almost devastated our economy in 2008 did we realize we're more vulnerable to being robbed by the places we deposit our money than a guy in a ski mask, wielding a gun.

Here is a big shocker: the CFPB is really, really, really unpopular with financial institutions. They have about 12 billion reasons to dislike the CFPB because $12 billion is the amount that has been recovered and returned to consumers after they were robbed by their banks.

This week, while the country was focused on James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House of Representatives approved 600 pages of legislation known as the Financial Choice Act. Utah’s congressional delegation voted in favor of this bill. It now goes to the Senate.

Under the proposed law, the CFPB would lose control of its funding (it is currently independently funded to avoid undue political influence and corruption), have its name changed, lose its capacity to challenge payday lending and arbitration agreements, and forfeit its power to supervise and examine financial practices. Your representatives in Congress just voted to hamstring a law enforcement agency that has returned $12 billion dollars stolen from consumers like you and me over the past six years.

There was no security camera footage and very little news coverage to let us know that Congress is trying to fire the cops who protect our money.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward

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