Taxpayers Are The New Stakeholders With Opinions

As with any major investor, it’s only a matter of time before the new shareholder starts throwing his weight around.

So, as a taxpaying U.S. citizen, NY Times columnist Clyde Haberman has a few suggestions for the banks he figures every American now has a $1,785.71 stake in.

NY Times: According to our maths, not the most reliable of guides, each taxpayer in this country has a $1,785.71 ownership share in the banks of America.

This figure is based on the $250 billion that the Treasury Department is investing in banks to prod them to start lending again. We divided $250 billion by 140 million, which the Internal Revenue Service says is the number of individual tax returns filed last year. By our count, that gives every taxpayer a $1,785.71 stake in JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the rest…

[A]s shareholders, we have thoughts on aspects of banking that seem beyond the scope of Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke. Call them small-bore issues. But they affect ordinary people every day.

Let’s start with something really easy. Is it too much to ask that all banks have pens that work on the counters with the deposit and withdrawal slips? In too many places, the pens are useless. How can people feel confident that their money is being managed wisely if those in charge can’t even provide a functioning pen?

As shareholders, we were going to suggest that the top executives of the banks forgo end-of-year bonuses, but Andrew M. Cuomo, New York’s attorney general, was ahead of us…

How about a moratorium on new bank branches in New York neighborhoods? The tanking economy will probably take care of that anyway. But an ironclad agreement by the banks to halt further expansion would delight New Yorkers…

Why not forbid any bank receiving taxpayer money to purchase naming rights to sports stadiums and arenas?…

Might we end the procedure by which banks stiff you when you deposit a large check? Often, you are initially credited with only part of the deposit, and must wait a few days to gain access to the rest. Meanwhile, the bank is using the withheld portion to pick up a few bucks for itself. Check-clearance times have been speeded up in recent years. But why shouldn’t depositors be able to get at their money immediately, all of it?

For that matter, why must bank customers pay several times to retrieve cash at an A.T.M. (known to some as short for Always Taking Money)? If you use an A.T.M. at a bank other than your own, that bank usually charges you a fee. Fair enough. But your own bank also charges you for the same transaction. So you pay twice for the privilege — no, make that the right — to withdraw your own money. How is that?

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