Wall Street CEOs return to Capitol Hill as election looms

In what has become an annual ritual, the CEOs of the major U.S. banks will appear in front of Congress this week to sell themselves as shepherds of a helpful industry at a time of financial and economic distress for many Americans.

Democrats have called JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup to Washington to talk about pocketbook issues as households contend with the highest inflation since the early 1980’s and the midterm election looms just weeks away.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which focus on investment banking, will not testify this time. Instead, the CEOs of three new banks will testify: Andy Cecere of U.S. Bank, William Demchak of PNC Financial and William Rogers Jr. of Truist.

Each of them run “super regionals,” banks that are huge in their own right, with thousands of branches and hundreds of billions in assets, but are dwarfed in size by JPMorgan, BofA, Citi and Wells.

While billed as a hearing on everyday finances, the CEOs are also likely to face difficult political questions with Washington in the midst of an election year. Republicans are almost certain to use the opportunity to ask about the tracking of gun store sales as well as whether banks should weigh in on hot-button social issues. Democrats are likely to ask about Wall Street’s lending to oil and gas companies, racial and wealth equity issues, CEO pay and overdraft fees.

Many Americans still remember bailing out the banking industry nearly 15 years ago, so the bank CEOs typically use the annual platform to sell themselves as a force for good.

The biggest banks were the primary conduit for the Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses. Many banks waived overdraft or late fees for borrowers during the worst of the pandemic and subsequently cut back on their collection of overdraft fees. The most prominent example was Bank of America cutting its overdraft fee from $35 to $10.

“The work we do at JPMorgan Chase matters, in good times, and particularly in tough times,” said Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, in prepared remarks. “We finance Americans’ ambitions with loans for homes, autos, and growing a small business, and provide valuable products and services to more than half of American households.”

Eager to avoid the political headache that comes with being labeled as part of “Wall Street,” the super regionals are likely to bill themselves as a competitive alternative to the Wall Street megabanks.

A series of mergers have brought increased scrutiny for the super regionals. U.S. Bank is currently in the process of buying MUFG Union Bank, the U.S. consumer banking arm of the Japanese banking giant. Truist resulted from the merger of SunTrust and BB&T; and PNC bought the consumer banking franchise of Spanish bank BBVA.

“We are a responsible provider that works for American consumers and the economy as a whole,” Cecere of U.S. Bank said in his prepared remarks.

The CEOs will appear in front of the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, and return to testify in front of the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.

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