Another Way to Combat Financial Intimidation

Most of us who approach bankers — or even lowly “loan officers” or “relationship managers,” as they have come to be called – experience some form of intimidation.  They have the money we need and the power to say “no.”  It’s an unequal relationship.

Emphasizing that fact, banks used to be housed in imposing fortresses or temple-like structures.  Moreover, they were usually staffed by members of the establishment, coming from families that enjoyed privileged relationships with old money.  That was before banks got into consumer services and started making a concerted effort to be more friendly.  But they still have a lot of power, and they still make us anxious.

Dylan Ratigan, former financial advisor on CNBC, coined the term “banksters” to help us shift perspectives.  The difference between banksters and gangsters, he argues, is simply that banksters have the government behind them:  “the ‘vampire’ banks ‘have assumed control of our government.’” (See, “From CNBC Business Journalist to Critic of Bankers on MSNBC.”)

Like gangsters, they often have cozy relationships with “friends” in high places, friends who instead of monitoring their actions offer tips about opportunities to make a killing.  They help to change the rules when the banksters can’t find ways around them.  The banksters get richer and richer, even when they don’t seem to earn the “profits” they generate.  And when they make disastrous mistakes, they manage to make it the public’s business to rescue them, because they are “too big to fail.”

Most of us, to begin with, tend to be anxious and insecure about our own personal financial decisions.  We think banksters know better – and maybe they do, as that is what their business is all about.  But they’re not on our side.  We can’t count on them to have our interests at heart.

But, more importantly, apart from the analysis Ratigan offers of the specific sins of banksters, the term he uses takes them down a notch and strips away the mystique.  And because in my mind, at least, it echoes with “prankster,” it makes them also a little silly.  That helps to undermine the intimidation.

Anything that restores the balance, that minimizes our perception of their omniscience and increases the power of our own judgment, gives us more of an advantage in this unequal struggle.   Skepticism, is helpful.  We may not actually think they are thieves and scoundrels, but they do not deserve the unthinking respect they have been receiving.

The recent credit meltdown also makes clear that, at the very least, they are fallible and careless with other people’s money.  We shouldn’t forget that.