Bring Back George Bailey

In my lifetime the world has improved in many ways, but banking has not. People need banks to be there to help keep their money safe, save for education, build a future for their families, support their communities, and provide services to small businesses. Yet many people believe that banks have lost their way. They have lost something precious: their compassion and dedication to their customers.

The bank hides behind pages of fine print. They sell credit cards that charge breathtaking interest rates. They advertise that they are friendly and community-spirited, yet the average person cannot get a mortgage and the small businessperson cannot get a loan. When tasked with helping American through the mortgage crisis, they worked hard to save themselves but created bureaucratic nightmares for the homeowners struggling to keep their homes.

The nation’s banks are sitting on trillions of dollars in assets and yet they nickel-and-dime the average customer who has a thousand dollars on deposit. It seems that during the Great Recession they figured out how to save themselves, and then how to adapt their business model to increase market share with the richest one percent.

Starting with the home equity crisis of late 2007, the Great Recession has been a long and painful period of high unemployment, loss of middle class wealth, and surging poverty. It may be a challenging market environment for the banking industry, but it is even harder on the people who most need their services. The big banks have especially lost their commitment to serving everyday people by providing affordable banking services that empower people’s life and work.

Banks must change – it is too important. It will not only benefit millions of households in the United States; it will also impact our competitiveness globally. Innovation in banking will help us be more competitive as we operate in a growing global economy.

Bankers need to reconnect with their community. I am an advocate for a different kind of leadership. Leadership like George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey lived by the motto “Do the right thing,” even when it meant hard work or required a different way to solve a problem.

As a society, we increasingly bank with a handful of large banks that don’t care about our individual needs. They care about their compensation packages, their careers, and themselves, but they don’t care about their customers. It is a crisis.

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