It’s been a rough couple of years for banks in America and around the world. First they suffered debilitating losses during the crash of 2008, and since have been criticized vehemently by the public and hounded by regulators. Just kidding — they’re actually raking in huge profits and still paying employees obscenely large bonuses. It’s little wonder that Americans look at an industry that received trillions in bailouts and seems to be constantly embroiled in lawsuits like they’re not sure if bankers deserve the money, or they’re just scamming scumbags. Whether banks are lecherous drains on capitalism or its very backbone, anyone who’s ever dealt with overdraft fees can tell you they’re kind of huge dicks. Things such as:
There’s really no easy place to start with Morgan Stanley. In the Aughts alone, they’ve racked up an impressive rap sheet of fraud, disinformation and bald-faced lies. Before he was famous for having sex with call girls that really upped the ante on sex for money, Spitzer spent most of his time pursuing organized crime and banks making fraudulent claims to investors, including Morgan Stanley (they’re the bankers, not the organized crime, in case that wasn’t clear). Shortly thereafter, they settled a sex-discrimination suit to the tune of $54 million. Then they had to cough up even more to the NYSE for regulatory violations, and the list goes on. But all of that is really obscure financial law that is dense, complex, and really, really boring. Fortunately, Morgan Stanley decided securities fraud was for nerds and losers and decided they needed to do something really dirty and soulless so they could look good in front of Goldman Sachs.
Tragically, Morgan Stanley had large offices in the World Trade Center in 2001, which were completely wiped out. Later, when claimants in arbitration or regulators came forward asking for documents relating to their cases, Morgan Stanley would solemnly remark that all its saved emails and records perished with the towers, perhaps adding a sentimental sniff and a whispered “those poor souls”. Except they’re a bank and they’d never let a good tragedy go to waste.
Turns out Morgan Stanley had a back up all along. They were just using the tragedy of 9-11 as a smokescreen to win arbitration suits and evade regulators. Eventually this deception was found out by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and Morgan Stanley settled for roughly $12 million—about 4% of their total revenue. So the next time you hear a banker complaining that protestors are lazy and need to learn how to work for their money, ask them how much money they made exploiting—not just the deaths of thousands of innocents—but of a good section of their own employees.
HSBC is a UK company whose initials inexplicably stand for the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. To put it lightly, they’re uh…pretty big and have offices in just about every country that matters on Earth (sorry Africa). Right as the subprime crisis was growing like a festering abscess underneath the American economy, HSBC decided they needed to get in on that shit. So in 2002, they acquired the Household Finance Corporation and became the second-largest subprime lender in the country. Not only did HSBC happily hand out these junk loans that would later cause one of the greatest financial meltdowns in history, but they also charged Blacks higher interest than Whites, even if they had the same credit score. And in what’s become a persistent, depressing theme, when the crash hit they happily took government bailout money and paid out bonuses of $1.6 million to over 200 employees.
As if being criminally negligent and racist weren’t enough, HSBC also has a long, proud history of hiding behind technicalities to protect the funds of wealthy autocrats. One of the most notable accounts comes from the oil wealth of President Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, a regime widely recognized as one of the most oppressive on the planet.
Bank of America
When you hear Bank of America, the scummiest thing that comes to mind is probably their recent bid to charge a $5 fee each month for the use of its debit cards. After initial outrage at the move, BofA backed down. While a bank needs to charge some amount of money to cover its costs, BofA’s move was particularly douchey simply because it was unnecessary. Let’s do a little math to show just how lazy and abusive of its customers this was. To start, BofA has somewhere in the neighborhood of $57 million customers. Not all of these use debit cards regularly and not all of them even have debit cards, but let’s assume they do and they use their debit card every month (the charge wouldn’t have applied if the card wasn’t used for the month). That means BofA would make $60 a year off of each customer, or around $3 billion in total per year. BofA’s total revenue is more than 43 times that, and in the past decade has spent roughly 30 times that amount in acquisitions. Also it’s about half of what they wanted to pay in bonuses in 2009, before the SEC stepped in. In other words, it’s a pittance that some lazy executive decided to institute to boost the numbers (and his bonus) by single digits of a percent while directly hurting every one of their customers.
But just in case you’d think BofA’s awfulness were limited to things you complain about over the water cooler, there’s also the uncomfortable fact that they are kind of hugely responsible for the current financial miasma. To oversimplify vastly for the sake of humor and brevity, BofA was one of the largest subprime lenders in the country leading up to the crisis. They then took those mortgages, bundled them in packages of assets to conceal their crummy value, and sold them to AIG. This multi-layered shit cake ensured that a disruption to the housing market would spread to the entire economy, and collapse whole sectors that had nothing to do with housing, but were insured by mortgage-backed securities.
The last time there was a scandalous headline involving Citigroup that you actually read probably involved a sexual discrimination lawsuit. The only reason you read it was probably because this woman’s picture was at the top. That’s Debrahlee Lorenzana, a woman so hot even her name has to be read in a breathy tone. Allegedly, she was fired by her managers for refusing to wear less provocative clothing. When she pointed out that her clothing wasn’t any more revealing than other women in the office, her bosses responded by saying she was just too hot and they couldn’t concentrate on their work. So, you know, instead of chastising lecherous male colleagues to act like professionals, they got rid of Lorenzana.
Oh but the rap sheet for Citigroup doesn’t even begin to end with titillating tabloid stories that are a thinly-veiled excuse to plaster pictures of an insanely beautiful woman across the top of business journals. Two of the biggest financial scandals of the Aughts—Enron and Worldcom—both saw Citigroup paying billions in fines and settlements after being accused of falsifying documents. There’s also the infamous “Plutonomy Memo”, where the head analyst of Citigroup came out and confirmed basically everything that Occupy Wall Street is complaining about today — the top 1% owns most of the wealth, there are steep economic barriers to those in the middle-class raising their income, and that Citi should focus on investing in areas the 1% would spend their money in the following years.
I bet you thought we were done, but no, the list goes on and on. In 2008, Citigroup presumably got tired of complex financial manipulations as a way of skimming money without alerting regulators, and started outright stealing money from customers accounts. And since it’s obligatory to mention, after receiving tens of billions in bailout money, they paid bonuses over $1 million to more than 700 employees. Have any faith left? Well sorry it’s going to be crushed by the story of an Indonesian man who went to meet with Citibank debt collectors in Jakarta, and was straight beaten to death”
Oh Goldman Sachs, the big ole’ boogeyman of the Great Recession. So many delightfully amoral details have been revealed about you in Matt Taibbi’s so-angry-they’re-almost-gleeful takedowns. There is honestly not much to be added to Taibbi’s excoriations. In a few short years you have transformed the heart of the American dream from something that worked and strived for better pay, to something that seeks to make money in the easiest, most underhanded methods possible.
As the bipartisan report condemning you puts it, your actions over the past few years constitute literally “a million fraud cases a year”. You are the Hitler of the Financial Apocalypse: you have succeeded in creating a lie so big, no one dares disbelieve it.