Donald Trump is set on upending the only financial institution designed to protect regular people. Why? Because the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created to police the kind of predatory lending that helped kickstart the financial crisis, has apparently left Wall Street on its knees.
The CFPB, which employs 1,600 people and has an independent budget of almost $770 million, has been disliked by big banks and Republicans since its inception in 2010. Trump, too, has made clear how he feels about the agency.
Now Trump may actually have power to reshape it. CFPB director Richard Cordray stepped down on Nov. 24, and appointed his chief of staff, Leandra English, acting director. The same day, Trump appointed White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who once described the CFPB as a “sick, sad joke,” to the same post. English is suing to establish that she is, in fact, the true director, and to get a restraining order so Mulvaney can’t take office. But Mulvaney already showed up for work on Monday, with doughnuts.
Yes, CFBP rules have changed bank behavior. The bureau requires lenders to check a borrower’s income and ability to meet payments prior to doling out loans, and has discouraged exotic mortgages with “teaser” interest rates. As a result, big banks no longer lend the bulk (paywall) of mortgages. Since its inception, the CFBP has also returned $12 billion to 29 million Americans through enforcement actions.
But the Top 10 US banks by assets currently hold $11.8 trillion. That makes the CFBP’s returns about 0.1% of the largest banks’ total assets.
The US’s biggest bank, JPMorgan Chase, made $6.7 billion in profit last quarter, up 7% from a year prior. Annualized, it would take the company less than six months to single-handedly make back whatever earnings the CFBP might have taken away from the whole industry. Nor is JPM alone: Last quarter, Bank of America made $11.4 billion in net interest income (income made from commercial and personal loans, mortgages, and other interest-bearing assets), beating both expectations and the $10.4 billion made over the same period a year before.
The executives of US financial institutions are also some of the best-paid banking CEOs in the world.
Just this week, Goldman Sachs executives cashed out on decade-old stock options, valued at $204.16 each. Since the 2016 election, on the back of a booming stock market and promises of tax reform, Goldman’s once watery stock has surged, reaching $235.95 per share the day options expired. The bank’s executives brought home $13 million (paywall) in profits; CEO Lloyd Blankfein made $5 million, while other top executives made around $2 million each.
This isn’t isolated to Goldman: On balance, big banks’ share prices have doubled or close to doubled since the CFPB was born.
If US banks are devastated, they have a funny way of showing it.