NEW YORK -- The CEOs of the nation’s biggest banks faced a second day of tough questioning from lawmakers on Thursday, as Americans contend with the highest inflation since the early 1980s and a midterm election is only weeks away.
JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser and other chief executives repeated the message they gave to the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday: The U.S. consumer is in relatively good shape but faces threats from high inflation and rising interest rates.
Senators’ initial comments reflected the lingering populist anger toward Wall Street more than a decade after the financial crisis as well as the looming election.
"You are among the most powerful actors in our economy,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. “Your entire industry, and its substantial safety net are supported by American taxpayers. It’s past time for the financial industry to be as good to the American people as the country has been to you.”
While billed as a hearing on everyday finances and industry oversight, the CEOs are also getting a hefty dose of election-year politics. Democrats in the House pushed the CEOs on issues like racial equity, the unionization efforts at banks, as well as evergreen financial topics like overdraft fees and fraud.
"Ms. Fraser it’s good to see you because you’re about the only diversity we have seen in this industry,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey.
Menendez, while acknowledging that banks have made progress in reducing overdraft fees for customers, pushed the CEOs to completely eliminate such fees. Most of the CEOs said they now generally offer no overdraft fee products, and expect to see their overdraft fee income to continue to decline.
One of the more contentious discussions involved Zelle, the private peer-to-peer payment network jointly owned by the banks. Zelle has come under scrutiny because of rising complaints of bank customers unknowingly authorizing payments to scammers via Zelle, and being unable to get their funds back. In contrast, fraud and scams on credit cards are generally covered by the credit card companies.
Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, pressed the banks on the issue of Zelle's safety. While acknowledging there are ways Zelle can be improved, the CEOs tried to differentiate Zelle from other peer-to-peer payment networks. The CEOs said services such as Cash App, Venmo or PayPal have significantly higher cases of fraud than Zelle.
“The issue is that a customer authorizes a transaction and it later turns out to be a scam, banks shouldn’t be on the hook for that,” said Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America. He also said the scams account for a very small percentage of the transactions that take place via Zelle.
Republicans were focused on social issues, including banks making the decision to pay for employees’ abortion costs, gun rights and the financing of the oil and gas industry.
“I can’t help but observe that when banks do weigh in on highly charged social and political issues, they seem to always come down on the liberal side,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the committee.
Dimon seemed to agree with Toomey's assertion that federal regulators have the power to sway banks on issues like climate change or lending to oil and gas companies.
“Speaking for myself, they are my judge, my jury and my hangman,” Dimon said. "They can do whatever they want unless constrained by you,” referring to Congress.