TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Bill Radke: This week, Citibank backed away from some new fees. The bank had told customers they’d pay about nine bucks a month if their checking balance was less than $1,500. But New York Attorney. General Andrew Cuomo said no, no, Citibank, you didn’t give customers enough notice. So Citi agreed to keep those accounts free for a while. We’re joined by Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus. Good morning, David.
David Lazarus: Good morning.
Radke: So is this the kind of bank fee that the president wanted to stop with the Consumer Financial Protection Agency?
Lazarus: This is the kind of bank fee that the Consumer Financial Protection Agency would look very closely at — if it existed, and it’s looking increasingly like that’s not going to happen.
Radke: Well why is that?
Lazarus: Well obviously, the president is a bit on the ropes. He just said that his new focus is jobs, jobs, jobs. And that’s great, but it makes a lot of his other big-ticket policy agenda items, well, tougher to bring around. Primarily because the banking industry was up in arms about the idea of a new regulator stepping in and watching them play in the sandbox has lobbied fiercely against this thing. And now most of the backers in Congress are now backing away.
Radke: I’ve noticed banks seem to be picking up their credit offers lately. I’m opening my mail over the recycling bin and the shredder.
Lazarus: You and most of us. And it’s interesting because this is a real subtle economic indicator, but it kind of tells you that the banks are back and they want to woo you back in with offers of easy credit. In fact, a market researcher called Mintel Comparemedia, which looks after all these solicitations, says that in the last three months of 2009, the number of solicitations that went out rose 47 percent from the quarter before. Now topping the list was Capitol One; their solicitations more than tripled.
Radke: I understand there’s a memo that surfaced that gives us an idea how this Consumer Financial Protection Agency might be sunk.
Lazarus: Republican pollster Frank Luntz penned a memo for his clients which I got my hands on, which offers talking points for talking this thing down. Let me give you an example of it: One of the things he recommends that critics say is, “We don’t need bigger government, what we need is a better approach that promotes accountability, responsibility and effective oversight.” And that’s great, until you realize he’s not proposing anything there. I mean it’s completely hollow words. I spoke with Luntz about that, and he says, “Well don’t underestimate the hostility people have towards bureaucrats.” And that’s where the spinmeisters are going.
Radke: Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus. Thanks.
Lazarus: Thank you.
Radke: And you can catch David this weekend on Marketplace Money. He will be answering listener questions about personal finance and your life with dollar signs.
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