Burt Bottomline knows banking.
And why shouldn't he? Burt Bottomline has been in banking -- Big Banking -- for years. He's one of Big Banking's biggest players. He knows how to play the game. He's used to winning the game. (That's what being a Big Banker is all about, isn't it? Winning the game?)
Which is why it was such a shock when he lost one. When those idiots in Washington put a cap on his swipe fees. When they ignored him and his fellow Big Bankers -- despite months of lobbying, despite hundreds of strategically deployed campaign contributions -- and decided to go ahead with tough new caps on his swipe fees.
It was like they reached into his wallet and just took the money out! Up to now, whenever somebody swiped a certain debit card at a store anywhere, Burt Bottomline's bank took a cut. A healthy cut -- as much as 44 cents per transaction.
(You think 44 cents isn't a lot of money? Try multiplying it by millions and millions of transactions. All those 44 centses add up in a hurry.)
"Remember when 'swipe' meant 'steal'?" Burt's Big Banking buddies used to joke among themselves at their Big Banker conventions. It was always good for a laugh.
But not anymore. Not once those idiots in Washington decided that 12 cents a transaction was all he could charge. What kind of fee was 12 cents?! It was like the government just reached into his wallet and --
Or was he repeating himself?
Burt Bottomline was fit to be tied. He was not fit to be highly regulated. Somehow, though, he'd lost. Somehow, when it came to throwing their weight around, the Big Banks had been beaten out by the Big Retailers. The Big Retailers wanted lower swipe fees, and that's exactly what they got.
What a travesty! What a miscarriage of justice!
What a pain in Burt Bottomline's butt.
He knew exactly what he had to do. But first, he knew exactly what he couldn't do: he couldn't admit defeat. He couldn't admit that those idiots in Washington had ever gotten the upper hand on Burt Bottomline; that would only encourage them to stick him with even more rules, even more regulations.
It was time to go to Option B -- the play Big Banking had borrowed from Big Oil.
"We may be obliged to recapture our revenues by other means."
You couldn't talk about cutting Big Oil's enormous government subsidies without them announcing that it wouldn't matter a bit. All it would do is put a crimp in their drilling. It might even force them to raise the price at the pump.
The idea that they might settle for a smaller profit never even entered the picture.
Well, there were at least as many ways for banks to grab money back as there were for oil companies, weren't there? Of course there were.
"We may be obliged to recapture our revenues by other means," Burt Bottomline's bank announced.
It was a simple statement. (Only a cynic would call it a threat.) All it did was look at however much profit Burt Bottomline's bank had been raking in under the old system, at 44 cents a swipe, and treat that amount of profit as the baseline. As the absolutely natural order of things.
"If they're going to take away some of our profits over here," the statement calmly implied, "then certainly we'll have to increase our profits somewhere else."
What was the alternative, after all? Making less?
Don't be ridiculous. We're a Big Bank.
Burt Bottomline beams.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.