This Week In Credit Card News: China And Your Card Information; Making Cards Less Vulnerable To Fraud
Forget Balloons: China is Coming for Your Credit Cards
Since the Dodd-Frank financial reform law was passed in 2010, an under-the-radar company called UnionPay has been processing debit card transactions in the U.S. thanks to a provision in the bill referred to as the Durbin Amendment. UnionPay was created by China’s central bank in 2002 and is funded by the government. The 2010 law required banks to include alternative networks, including UnionPay, as options for merchants to process debit card transactions. Now, despite the wave of spy balloons being shot down by the American military, the same people pushing the debit card policy want to do the same thing to the credit card market. Giant corporations including Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot. Target and Kroger have teamed up with some U.S. lawmakers to push legislation that would allow UnionPay to process your credit card transactions. [The Washington Times]
Make Your Credit Cards Less Vulnerable to Fraud
Last year, one of my family’s credit cards was used to rack up hundreds of dollars in bogus charges at Apple.com. Dealing with the aftermath taught me to prize security over convenience, and to change some bad habits that made me an easier target. Sites where you make multiple purchases each month need to be monitored carefully for bogus transactions. Compare what your credit card statement says you’ve charged with your purchase history on the site. And if you find fraud, report it, even if it’s beyond the 60-day deadline. I also learned that I could “lock” my card in the mobile app to prevent unauthorized use. Unlocking it when I want to make a charge just takes a few seconds. I already had two-factor authentication, which requires a code and a password to sign in, on my financial and email accounts. I added it to my most-used retail sites as well. I’ve also started using a mobile payment system wherever possible. These systems—which include Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay—create a “token” that’s transmitted to merchants so that your credit card number is never exposed or stored. [Associated Press]
Credit Card Debt Higher Than Savings for Record Percentage of Americans
Month after month of stubbornly high inflation has squeezed Americans’ budgets to the point that many are relying on credit or dipping into their savings in order to make ends meet. Now, the percentage of U.S. adults with more credit card debt than emergency savings has reached a new high. In survey results released by Bankrate, more than one-third, 36%, of U.S. adults reported that their credit card debt outweighs their emergency savings. That is the highest level recorded since the poll launched 12 years ago, and it is a marked increase from 22% in January 2022. Nearly half of respondents, 49%, said they have either less money in emergency savings or none at all compared to a year ago. [Fox Business]
Credit Card Delinquency Rates for New Users Were Higher Than for Those with Established Credit
In the U.S., many new borrowers’ ability to pay off debt was slightly less favorable than that of more established credit-served customers, according to the Empowering Credit Inclusion study by TransUnion. New-to-credit (NTC) consumers who opened credit cards over the last two years reflected higher credit card delinquency rates after the first six months following opening their accounts, compared to people with established credit and similar credit scores who opened new credit cards during the same time period. The credit card delinquency rate for near-prime NTC consumers was 3.4% compared to 2.2% for near-prime consumers with established credit. For prime NTC consumers, the delinquency rate was 1.2% compared to 0.7% for prime users with established credit. [Fox Business]
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Americans Have a Collective $21 Billion in Unspent Gift Cards
Some people love them, some people hate them. Worse, a large number of us who receive them on special occasions are indifferent to them, or even forget about them entirely. Such is the sad fate of gift cards; millions of which go unused each year and have a collective value estimated to be in the billions of dollars. Almost two-thirds of American consumers have at least one unspent gift card tucked away in a drawer, pocket, wallet or purse. And at least half of those consumers lose a gift card before they use it, according to a new report from Credit Summit. The report said there is as much as $21 billion of unspent money tied up in unused and lost gift cards. [CNN]
Senate Panel Targets the Collection of Gun-Sale Data by Credit Card Companies
Credit card companies could face fines up to $10,000 per violation for tracking firearm and ammunition sales in Florida, under a measure approved Tuesday by a Senate committee. The Republican-controlled Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 7-3 along party lines to approve a bill that would target yet-to-be-enacted plans by some credit card companies to create a separate “merchant category code” for sales at firearm businesses. Similar four-digit codes are already used to separate purchases and collect data from places such as grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and bookstores. [WUSF]
Biden Selects Ex-Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga for World Bank President
President Biden will nominate Ajay Banga, the former president and CEO of Mastercard, to serve as president of the World Bank. Banga is currently the vice chairman of General Atlantic, a private equity firm, and would succeed David Malpass as head of the World Bank. Malpass was tapped for the post by former President Donald Trump and announced this month his plan to step down on June 30, four years into a five-year term. The World Bank president has been an American citizen since its founding after World War II, and the U.S. candidate is traditionally chosen to head the bank. The nominee must be confirmed by the World Bank’s executive board. [CBS News]
Citibank is Offering a Bonus of Up to $2,000 for New Checking Account Customers Right Now
Over the past year, the Federal Reserve has worked tirelessly to tame a record-high inflation rate. As a result, the federal funds rate has been raised consistently in 25-to-75 basis-point increments in an effort to get the economy running smoothly once again. The catch: raising rates raises the cost of borrowing. But for savers and checking account holders, it’s not all bad news. Having fewer borrowers means banks look for other ways to reel in new customers, often in the form of higher annual percentage yields or lucrative checking account bonuses. For a limited time, Citibank is offering a cash bonus of $200, $500, $1,000, $1,500, or even $2,000 to new customers who open a Citibank, Citi Priority, Citigold, or Basic Banking checking account between now and April 4, 2023. [Fortune]
ACH Network Sees Same Day Payments Up 15.5% and B2B Rise 11.8% in ’22
Same Day ACH and B2B payments on the ACH Network saw double-digit growth in 2022. These gains came during a year in which, overall, the number of payments processed by the ACH Network grew 3% to 30 billion and the value of those payments rose 5.6% to $76.7 trillion. 2022 marked the 10th consecutive year in which the total value of ACH payments increased by at least $1 trillion. Same Day ACH recorded a 15.5% increase in volume and an 86.3% increase in the value of payments during 2022. [PYMNTS]
Stripe Expands Tap to Pay to Android, Turning NFC-Enabled Android Devices into Payment Terminals
Stripe, the payments and financial services upstart, made waves in the world of mobile commerce last year when it became Apple’s first payment partner for “Tap to Pay,” the iPhone giant’s move to turn any iOS device into a payment-making or payment-taking terminal. Now, Stripe is expanding that business by a factor of googol. From today, businesses that use Stripe Terminal to take in-person payments now will be able to carry out Tap to Pay transactions on NFC-equipped Android devices, too. [Tech Crunch]
Klarna Jumps Back to Y2K with Help from Paris Hilton
Klarna has partnered with Paris Hilton’s 11:11 Media on a global advertising campaign starring the hotel heiress and social influencer. Creative draws on Y2K fashion trends and shows Hilton responding to the fintech marketer’s payment and shopping services with “That’s Smooth,” a spin on the “That’s hot” catchphrase she popularized in the early aughts. Commercials and stills attached to the effort roll out globally on Feb. 27 and will appear throughout March on social, digital, broadcast and out-of-home channels. 11:11 Media is handling aspects of the digital execution, including posts from Hilton’s personal accounts. [Marketing Dive]
Wells Fargo Seeks to Catch Faster-Growing Rivals by Boosting Engagement with Rich Clients
Wells Fargo is unveiling a new platform to boost digital engagement with its 2.6 million wealth management clients. The service, called LifeSync, lets users create and track progress on financial goals, ingest content tied to their plans, and contact their advisors. It will be delivered through a mobile app update in late March. Banks are jockeying to provide their customers with personalized experiences via digital channels, and this tool should enable Wells Fargo to boost satisfaction and loyalty. CEO Charlie Scharf has highlighted wealth management as one source of growth for the company, along with credit cards and investment banking, amid his efforts to overhaul the bank and appease regulators. [CNBC]
The Calculus Behind The ESG Battle Between The White House And Capitol Hill
When President Biden used his first veto (less than 60 days after his party no longer controlled both houses of Congress), the media reported on the event with much fanfare. That it had to do with a very narrow subject didn’t matter. But was all the chest pumping justified? Could it be that the issue was already moot even before Congress passed the joint resolution that inspired the veto?
On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, the Senate voted 50-46 to overturn the Department of Labor’s new Fiduciary Rule. This new Rule was to replace a similar Rule promulgated by the DOL under the Trump administration. At issue was the application of ESG criteria by ERISA fiduciaries to retirement plan investments.
What does ESG stand for?
“ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance,” says Andrew Poreda, VP and ESG senior research analyst at Sage Advisory Services in Austin, Texas. “ESG factors are non-financial (yet important) factors that are critical to the success of a corporation or entity.”
The concept isn’t entirely new. A similar philosophy called “Socially Responsible Investing” (“SRI”) emerged as a favorite among activists in the 1980s. It primarily targeted institutional investments in South Africa.
Going further back, religious organizations have practiced this form of exclusionary investing for quite some time. For example, it’s not unusual to see portfolios for church groups prohibit investments in “sin” stocks (alcohol, tobacco, and gambling) or stocks in the defense industry.
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Why is ESG important?
If ESG is just an SRI rose by another name, why has it suddenly become the center of such controversy? In short, it’s because it’s a little hard to define, and when it’s defined, it seems to run contrary to fiduciary practices.
Lawrence (Larry) Starr, of Cornerstone Retirement, Inc./Qualified Plan Consultants in West Springfield, Massachusetts, says, “There is no way to mandate something that is so poorly defined and differs widely in application from company to company and from investor to investor.”
As one of those investors, however, it’s critical you understand how other investors view ESG for the same reason it’s important for value investors to understand how growth investors think and vice versa.
“ESG is data that can provide a more complete picture of how a company operates beyond financial analysis alone,” says Bud Sturmak, the head of impact investing and a partner at Perigon Wealth Management in New York City. “ESG analysis helps to better understand a company’s overall stability, its opportunity to create shareholder value, and its exposure to critical business risks. ESG data can help inform sound investment decisions and allow you to tailor your portfolio to reflect your personal values.”
What is the main focus of ESG?
Starr says the primary reason ESG exists is “to provide ‘socially conscious’ investors with guidance as to a company’s attention to these (not well-defined) subjects.”
Again, if you look at things from the point of view of proponents, ESG, no matter how ill-defined up close, has a sincere intention when looking at it from the 30,000-foot level.
“The main purpose of ESG investing is to reward good corporate citizenship and encourage companies to act responsibly by allocating capital to companies that share the investor’s values,” says Rob Reilly, a member of the finance faculty at the Providence College School of Business and an investment consultant at North Atlantic Investment Partners in Boston. “Environmental criteria consider how a company deals with environmental risks and natural resource management, including corporate policies addressing climate change. Social criteria evaluate how a company manages relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, and the communities where they operate. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, board of director diversity, internal controls, executive pay, audits, and shareholder rights.”
This broad objective can have multiple tactics. How do these varying approaches impact the definition of ESG?
“This depends on one’s perspective,” says Matthew Eickman, national retirement practice leader at Qualified Plan Advisors in Omaha. “At a binary level, it’s either to invest in companies in an effort to support or advance social and environmental agendas, or it’s to invest in companies whose commitment to environmental, social, and/or governance issues situates the companies to perform well in the future.”
This confusion can lead some to question the real aim of ESG.
“It is a Machiavellian and subversive attempt by ESG woke proponents to seize and control how boards of directors in America run their company on ESG goals rather than profit and loss goals,” says Terry Morgan, President of OK401k in Oklahoma City.
What did the President and Congress hope to achieve by their actions?
Given the passion ESG generates on both sides, is it any surprise that it has become a political hot potato? And when something becomes a political hot potato, you need to guard against hyperbole.
“First, it should be noted that there is a disconnect between what the bill does and what some politicians are claiming it does,” says Poreda. “The intent of Congress’s joint resolution appears to be aimed at preventing retirement plans from investing in strategies that are aimed at pushing political and ideological agenda (e.g., ESG strategies are seen as being aligned with climate activism and ‘woke’ agendas).”
Indeed, it could be that both proponents and opponents of ESG may not have read the fine print of either the Trump or Biden Rules.
In a post published in the Harvard Law School Forum, Max M. Schanzenbach (Northwestern Pritzker School of Law), and Robert H. Sitkoff (Harvard Law School) wrote, “Much of the confusion that the 2022 Biden Rule endorses ESG investing, and that the 2020 Trump Rule opposed it, traces to the original proposals for those rules. The Biden Proposal favored ESG factors by deeming them ‘often’ required by fiduciary duty. The Trump Proposal disfavored ESG factors by subjecting them to enhanced fiduciary scrutiny. However, following the notice-and-comment period, the Department significantly revised those proposals before finalization. Neither final rule singled out ESG investing for favored or disfavored treatment. The final Trump Rule did not use the term ‘ESG.’ The regulatory text of the final Biden Rule refers once to ESG investing, but only to state that ESG factors ‘may’ be ‘relevant to a risk and return analysis,’ depending ‘on the individual facts and circumstances.’ This statement is true for all investment factors, ESG or otherwise.”
Certainly, political leaders possess the legal literacy to discern this similarity. Why, then, did we have all the fireworks surrounding the Joint Resolution?
“Unfortunately, this issue has become politicized and certain politicians believed these factors were being taken into account to achieve political rather than financial goals,” says Robert Lowe, a partner (through his professional corporation) of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP in Los Angeles.
Clearly, there is no consensus on the meaning of ESG. Perhaps, given there are multiple ideas concerning the definition of “ESG,” it’s only natural that the reasons behind the various maneuverings might also be divergent.
“Different supporters of the vetoed proposal had different intents,” says Albert Feuer of the Law Offices of Albert Feuer in Forest Hills, New York. “Many supporters believe risk return analysis should be subordinated to ESG factors that are not called ESG factors, such as investing in United States fossil fuel ventures to preserve jobs in those ventures even if they have poor risk-return profiles. These same supporters criticize ESG advocates of the divestment fossil fuel investments, which the regulation prohibits absent a showing that these investments will be replaced by those with a better risk-return profile. Other supporters have little confidence in financial analysts and free markets. They believe ESG factors are inherently bad and thus fiduciaries should be prohibited from considering them absent compelling evidence that in a particular situation, such factors would improve the risk-return profile of an investment.”
Marcia S. Wagner, Esq., president/founder of The Wagner Law Group in Boston, Massachusetts, in a Forbes.com interview, said that President Biden faced pressure from his own party. Starr agrees. He says Biden had no choice but “to bow to his far-left constituency, especially since he just approved major drilling for oil in Alaska. This gives him a countervailing argument to show he hasn’t abandoned his ‘progressive’ policies completely.”
In the end, you could have easily predicted the actions by all actors in the dance between the joint resolution and the veto.
“This was a foregone conclusion,” says Eickman. “Biden knew he couldn’t appear weak on this, even if he may not view the DOL regulation as having nearly the impact as Congress had suggested with its votes.”
Deutsche Bank Should Disclose Its Current Liquidity Levels To Investors
Investors’ fear about the financial health of banks globally was palpable today. As they swarm bank after bank, Deutsche Bank was next on their list. They pummeled Deutsche Bank’s stocks and bonds. And the price for protection against a Deutsche Bank’s bond default rose significantly as evidenced in the credit derivatives market.
Nothing new, in particular, came out about Deutsche Bank today. It is not as if market participants only discovered today that Deutsche Bank has a long history of weak risk controls and a list of scandals rivaling Credit Suisse. Every time that there have been scandals about Deutsche Bank’s poor risk management, the stock falls, but eventually investors seem to just shrug their shoulders and move on. Yet, when you look at the stock over a much longer period of time, investors have been showing their discontent with the beleaguered bank for over a decade. Deutsche Bank has never recovered from its high on April 1, 2007. In fact, the stock has fallen almost 95% since then.
Liquidity Risk Is Key
What investors should be monitoring for all banks is how liquid they are, that, is whether they can pay all their obligations when they come due. It is difficult, if not impossible to know, how liquid Deutsche Bank is right now. Banks are only required to disclose financial and risk information on a quarterly basis. By the time, market participants get this information, it is already old.
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According to Deutsche Bank’s Basel III Pillar III Risk Disclosures, as of the end of December 2022, Deutsche Bank’s Liquidity Coverage Ratio was 135%, higher than the minimum requirement of 100%. The figure tells us that at that end of 2022, Deutsche Bank had enough high-quality liquid assets such as cash, money market instruments, and unencumbered investment grade bonds, to cover net cash outflows in periods of stress. That figure has declined by 7% from 2018 when it was at 145%.
In the U.S., as a stand-alone entity, Deutsche Bank’s Liquidity Coverage Ratio at the end of December 2022 was 141%. Banks are not required to disclose this ratio more frequently, so no one outside of Deutsche Bank knows what the LCR is today.
Unlike Silicon Valley Bank, Deutsche Bank has a diversity of funding sources such as retail and corporate deposits from different geographies, short-term and medium-term credit lines, as well as access to wholesale funding. Stable sources of funding are always important, especially right now.
In comparison to its globally systemically important bank (G-SIBs) peers in Europe at the end of 2022, however, Deutsche Bank did not have as high a percent of liquid assets as a percent of total assets. It appears to be less liquid than Barclays, UBS, Société Générale, Credit Suisse, or HSBC HBA . Deutsche Bank’s LCR and Net Stable Funding Ratio, a measure of funding stability for a twelve-month period, are also both lower than most European banks in that peer group.
As of today, the global rating agencies had Deutsche Bank in the A – BBB+ range which is considered investment grade, and the outlook is stable or positive. The very nature of processes that have to be abided by ratings analysts means that market participants always move faster to exhibit what they think of any company.
What Deutsche Bank should be doing right now is disclosing granular information about its current liquidity levels, sources of funding, and capital ratios. That certainly would give market participants a good idea of how the bank stands. No one had banking chaos on their bingo card at the end of 2022. So why should we be relying on financial information from then? In this environment, opacity only unnerves market participants even more.
Other Articles By This Author
Deutsche Bank’s Death By A Thousand Cuts Is Not Over
Global Rating Agencies Do Not Sound Optimistic About Deutsche Bank’s Restructuring Plan
Deutsche Bank’s Impending Auf Wiedersehen Will Hurt Americans
Does Greed Drive Deutsche Bank And Other Banks Not To File Suspicious Activity Reports?
Deutsche Bank Needs Serious Laundering
Deutsche and Other Scandal-Plagued Banks Should Learn From Novartis, Tenneco, And Volkswagen
Possible Trump Deutsche Bank Fraud Raises Serious Questions
It’s Time For Some Serious Railroad Regulation
There are times that news coverage seems like an ongoing recreation of the Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore movie 50 First Dates. Bad things happen and are then forgotten. Something happens again and rarely is it treated like an ongoing story. The public, other than those directly involved, also forgets and doesn’t press for closer coverage.
A current example is the railroad industry. Take the disastrous accident in East Palestine, Ohio that happened on just before 9p.m. on February 3, 2023. About 50 out of 149 cars derailed, according to ABC News. Out of the cars that went off the rails, 11 carried hazardous waste, including vinyl chloride, ethyl acrylate, and isobutylene. The last two are highly toxic and potentially carcinogenic.
Then came the mandatory evacuation, first within a one-mile radius, then two. Officials conducted a controlled burn of the substances, which turned into a heavy cloud. Eventually, the officials said that air and water samples were deemed safe. Except, the EPA found the chemicals in streams near the derailment site.
Later, large amounts of aquatic life would be found dead, even though officials had kept saying that everything was fine. Thousands of cubic yards of contaminated soil and millions of gallons of liquid waste have been collected. The State of Ohio has filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern NSC .
Back on February 21, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a letter to the rail line. One part of the multi-page paper: “Major derailments in the past have been followed by calls for reform – and by vigorous resistance by your industry to increased safety measures. This must change.”
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Yes, it must. But while an extreme issue, this isn’t the only rail accident that takes place in a year. In fact, there are literally thousands of varying degrees. Here’s a chart from the Department of Transportation:
In the latest year for which there is available data, 2021, 8,096 accidents occurred. Again, that could mean anything. But it does include 747 total fatalities and 4,647 injuries. Of those, 11 deaths and 2,577 injuries were of employees. Outside of grade crossings, where most of the troubles occur, there were 1,626 train accidents.
Total incidents in 2020 were 7,785. In 2019, 9,747; 9,682 in 2018; and 9,497 in 2017.
Shifting from such dangers and outcomes for a moment, think back to the impending rail strike in the fall of 2022. Many of the union workers were, and probably still are, deeply angry. Money was an issue, but the big holdup had been around attendance, sick time and scheduling. People get badly hurt working on rail lines and they need time to recover and get medical help. But rail companies, including BNSF Railway Company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway BRK.B with carefully avuncular Warren Buffett, don’t want to spend money on more staff.
No good crying poor. For perspective, the median value for all industries is 7.9%. The heights the railroad industry reaches are the fifth highest of any industry, only exceeded by money center banks (the really big ones), non-bank financial services, regional banks, and entertainment software. Look at “pre-tax, pre-stock compensation operating margin” numbers—before paying taxes or large stock grants. From that view, tobacco is at the top at 44.7%. And second highest? Railroads with their 42.4%.
If you look at the data only from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, employee injuries and fatalities have been falling since at least 2000.
In large part because the companies keep cutting back staff. In October 2000, there were 220,200 railroad transportation workers. By October 2022, the number was 142,300. Over the same period, the number of hauled containers and trailers went from 782,694 to 1,129,125, up 40%.
They could easily afford more workers. Better technology. Additional safety measures. And still make carloads of cash. But they don’t and clearly won’t.
The executive branch has to step in. So does Congress. When last they did, though, it was to side with the owners because of concern that a strike would shake supply chain logistics. Railroads transportation account for about 28% of freight transportation in the U.S., according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
However, there’s another factor as well. As an OpenSecrets.org analysis shows, the rail industry spend $653.5 million on government lobbying over the last 10 years, “with the biggest splurges occurring between 2008 and 2012 where the industry lobbied an act aiming to enforce antitrust laws on the freight railroad industry.” The lobbying expenses in 2022 were only $24.6 million, the lowest annual amount, adjusted for inflation, in more than two decades. (Check the link to see the article for many more details.)
Profits and spending on political leverage—money is the key and people, whether employees or citizens who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, are eventually sacrificial.
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