Unicorns and Rainbows


By Camden R. Fine, President and CEO of ICBA

Human beings are remarkably imaginative at rationalizing what they want to believe. “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, oh what a party we’d have.” That saying came to mind while reading Jamie Dimon’s appeal in the Wall Street Journal last month for industrywide unity and solidarity. If only it would be so, he opined.

In a transparently self-serving commentary, JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive wrote, no doubt coordinated with all of the major Washington, D.C.-based megabank trade groups, “America faces enough real challenges without inventing conflicts where none need exist.”

Really, Mr. Dimon? Community bankers should merrily clink goblets with the very people and institutions that, by their reckless greed and arrogant abuse of concentrated power, pushed the nation’s economy into financial freefall? A freefall that shattered millions of families’ lives and futures, along with hundreds of steadfast community banks on Main Street. The freefall that brought on the harsh regulatory backlash that, while annoyingly untidy for Wall Street, leaves community banks crushed and reeling to this day.

Evidently, now community banks should just simmer down, forgive and forget, and be grateful to feast upon the crumbs of Wall Street, as long as they mind their place and dutifully fall in line. Stop picking on the poor put-upon megabanks, folks. Let’s move on.

Of course, taking shelter under the hard-earned sterling reputations of community banks is what Wall Street really wants. But, tell me, what meaningful cover or support has Wall Street ever provided community banks? What cooperative goodwill have megabanks spread on Main Street? Every regulatory burden community banks shoulder today is the direct result of a foolish or misbehaving Wall Street financial institution. Every. Single. Blasted. One.

We’ve heard this siren call for “industry unity” before from the wolves of Wall Street, but why again so prominently now? Perhaps they’re worried about the white-hot anger still directed against Wall Street by so many agitated American voters. Cocooned by their ultra-affluence and unbridled power, they must be shocked that millions still remember, and in fact are still living through, the extraordinary wreckage and pain of the financial crisis and Great Recession.

Unicorns and cotton-candy rainbows are fine for Saturday afternoon daydreams. Wishing, wanting and saying something convenient, as any community banker with a week’s experience knows, is one thing, but some truths are easy to see. Dimon’s glib profession of faith in the underappreciated wonders of megabank and community bank unity, especially coming from a lifelong operative of Wall Street, is too much to stomach, let alone to believe.

The unvarnished, less-filigreed truth is that Wall Street’s megabanks will always ruthlessly pursue their own financial self-interests, including when writing op-ed pieces. With shareholders and market analysts to serve, Wall Street’s chieftains justify themselves as noble knights upholding capitalism and the American way, until of course they need a taxpayer bailout to remain solvent. That is their right, of course, just as it is the right of community banks to voice their own views, needs and grievances.

Just as Wall Street has proven to always promote and defend its interests, community banks on Main Street will do the same for themselves. For every issue and instance, ICBA proudly and independently toes the line for community banks, not Wall Street.

Reach Camden R. Fine at cam.fine@icba.org.