While the debate over financial reform devours Washington, local residents are reporting sightings of a pinstriped, cigar-chomping Banker Man, a larger-than-life character with an insatiable appetite for consumers, tourists and just about anybody with a dollar to spare.
Beware the Banker Man. He's big. He's bad. And he bites.
You can see video of Banker Man captured on the streets of D.C. right here.
The message behind this tongue-in-cheek bit of street theater is simple: It's time for banks and Wall Street to stop "feeding" on consumers with outrageous fees, hidden costs, and skyrocketing rates.
We need financial reform to stop the banking industry from preying on consumers. Without tougher rules and better oversight, we're at risk of repeating our recent financial fiasco, where the reckless behavior of banks and Wall Street sparked record home foreclosures and massive job losses.
The U.S. Senate is debating a good reform bill now, and several senators are lined up to strengthen it even more. But banking lobbyists are working overtime to persuade senators to make the bill weaker.
For instance, the Senate bill creates a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look out for consumers' financial interests. The bureau, located within the Federal Reserve Board, would have its own leaders, budget, and staff. Their job would be stopping consumer abuses in the financial services marketplace. Sen. Jack Reed is pushing to take this idea a step further by putting consumer protection in a separate, independent agency, similar to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency approved by the House last fall.
Meanwhile, opponents of strong financial reform are trying to insert loopholes in the bill to give certain industries a free pass to avoid the tougher rules. One loophole likely to be proposed would exempt payday lenders from the consumer protection bureau. Another loophole would exempt loans made or arranged by car dealers. Payday loans, with annual interest rates of 391 percent, are so difficult to pay off that many people end up paying more in interest than they originally borrowed. And car dealers' auto loan overcharges cost Americans an estimated $20 billion annually. These loans should be scrutinized just like other financial services, and the Senate shouldn't water down this bill to protect the institutions that offer them.
Americans are counting on Congress to pass a strong financial reform bill. Active, ongoing oversight of the financial marketplace is the only way to ensure consumers won't be ripped off.
To learn more about what you can do to protect your wallet and press for reform, check out DefendYourDollars.org.
And if you're out walking the streets of Capitol Hill, remember to keep an ever-watchful eye out for the big, bloated Banker Man.