Shareholder advocates call for political transparency for banks; Fiserv launches new brand campaign; Feingold unveils web site to navigate stimulus plan; Regulatory agency fines Baird for fee violations; Acuity caps record year; Obama unveils plan to stabilize housing market; Inlanta Mortgage adds in-house underwriting
Shareholder advocates call for political transparency for banks
Warning that "gaps in transparency and accountability" contributed to the current economic crisis, shareholder advocates have called on 19 financial companies, including Milwaukee-based Marshall & Ilsley Corp., that received more than $1 billion under the U.S. Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to disclose and require board oversight of their political spending with corporate funds.
The Center for Political Accountability (CPA) is a nationwide shareholder initiative to bring transparency and accountability to corporate political spending.
The companies, which received a letter signed by 23 shareholder advocates, have limited or no political disclosure.
Only three financial services companies – Prudential Financial Services, American Express and Capital One – have agreed to full reporting and board oversight of their political spending with corporate funds. The reporting includes soft money contributions and payments to trade associations and other tax exempt organizations used for political purposes.
The letter called "disclosure of political spending … a key part of transparency and accountability. To help rebuild shareholder and public trust in financial services institutions," it continued, "we are writing to urge your company to disclose and require board oversight of its political spending with corporate funds."
"As major political givers, banks should, as a matter of course, be open and above board in this spending," said CPA executive director Bruce Freed. "Unfortunately, many have been resistant to full disclosure. A safe and sound financial system must be based on transparency and accountability."
A recent Washington Times article reported that political action committees of JP Morgan Chase, Bank of American, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and other banks have contributed more than $2 million since last October as they were receiving TARP funds.
In addition to Marshall & Ilsley, which is the parent company of M&I Bank, the other companies receiving the letter from the CPA are: Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, PNC Financial Services, Regions Financial Corp, SunTrust Banks, Fifth Third Bancorp, BB&T, Bank of New York Mellon, KeyCorp, CIT Group, Comerica, State Street, Northern Trust, Zions Bancorporation and Huntington Bancshares.
Marshall & Ilsley spokeswoman Sara Schmitz told BizTimes Milwaukee, "We have not had an opportunity to review this document, and therefore are unable to comment at this time."
The letter was signed by the CPA and several other organizations, including Adrian Dominican Sisters, AFL-CIO Office of Investment, As You Sow, Boston Common Asset Management, Calvert Asset Management Co., Catholic Healthcare West, Congregation of St. Joseph, Domini Social Investments, Dominican Sisters of Hope, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Mercy Investment Program, Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investments, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Newground Social Investment, Pax World Management Corporation, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Detroit Charitable Trust, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Associates St. Louis Province, Socially Responsible Investment Committee of Congregation of St. Joseph, Trillium Asset Management Corp., Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, U.S. Province and Walden Asset Management.
The letter urged financial services companies to:
- Disclose on the company website all political spending including soft money contributions and payments to trade associations and other tax-exempt organizations that are used for political purposes.
- Require board oversight of their corporate political spending.
- Adopt policies and procedures for approval and review of political spending.
For additional information, visit www.politicalaccountability.net.
Fiserv launches new brand campaign
On its 25th anniversary as a company on Monday, Fiserv Inc. unveiled a new logo, an enhanced market approach and a new brand identity for the banking technology company.
The full integration of CheckFree’s electronic commerce operations within Fiserv has been a catalyst to drive increased innovation and focus the power of Fiserv’s cumulative expertise on helping clients grow their business and increase profitability.
"Our enhanced market approach and vibrant new identity are reflective of the significant change occurring within the financial services industry. We have the expertise, resources and scale to lead this transformation," said Jeffery Yabuki, Fiserv president and chief executive officer. "Fiserv provides processing technology solutions for more financial institutions than anyone in the world. That scale, combined with our market-leading products and services, uniquely positions us to lead the development of next-generation solutions that will transform the way financial services are delivered."
Starting today, all of Fiserv’s solutions are under the new brand and some offerings have been renamed. Fiserv innovations include: Source Capture Solutions, a full suite of solutions that enable electronification of all sources of deposits; Corillian Online (formerly Online Advantage), the next-generation platform for online personal financial management; Mobile Money, a mobile banking solution unique in its ability to support all mobile access protocols; MyMoney, the unique solution that leverages social networking technology to connect consumers with financial institutions; Business Analytics for Premier (formerly Viewpoint), the solution that enables proactive business intelligence practices as part of Fiserv’s Premier banking solution; and Bank Intelligence Solutions (formerly BancIntelligence), comprehensive online advisory tools that aid financial institutions in decision-making.
The company’s organizational structure has been aligned to streamline Fiserv’s market approach, accelerate product innovation and make it easier for clients to access the full breadth of Fiserv solutions. All of the company’s businesses have been unified under the new brand and report through two primary operating divisions led by Steve Olsen, former CheckFree chief operating officer and now Fiserv group president, and Tom Warsop, Fiserv group president.
For more information about the changes, visit www.newfiserv.com.
Feingold unveils web site to navigate stimulus plan
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) recently unveiled a web site dedicated to informing Wisconsin communities, residents and businesses about the details of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The web site, http://feingold.senate.gov/recovery, includes information on how Wisconsin will benefit from the bill.
"Now that the economic recovery passage has become law, it is time to make sure it does what it is intended to do like creating jobs and easing the financial burdens felt by Wisconsin businesses and families," Feingold said. "Since the bill is so large and involves so many different initiatives and projects to get our economy going, I want to be as helpful as possible in educating people in Wisconsin about the bill. My site will be continuously updated as the recovery plan is implemented. I encourage people to visit the website to learn the details about the many positive things this bill will do for Wisconsin."
The site includes a FAQ (frequently asked questions) section and a section that lists the many grant programs funded through the bill to help job training programs, law enforcement agencies, energy efficiency programs, transit programs, housing development programs and other efforts to create or save jobs.
Regulatory agency fines Baird for fee violations
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has fined Milwaukee-based Robert W. Baird & Co. $500,000 for supervisory violations relating to its fee-based brokerage business.
The FINRA also ordered Baird to return $434,510 in fees, plus interest, to 154 customers. Those customers either paid fees in fee-based accounts without generating activity or paid fees higher than those indicated on the Baird fee schedule.
The FINRA found that Baird’s failure to adequately review its 360/One accounts during a period in which the 360/One program grew from approximately 7,000 accounts to more than 11,000 accounts allowed numerous 360/One customers to remain in the program despite conducting no trades for at least eight consecutive quarters. The accounts paid more than $269,000 in fees during the inactive quarters.
Baird also failed to have a supervisory system in place to automatically credit certain 360/One customers with breakpoint discounts that were specified in new account agreements. As a result, 53 customers paid fees higher than those indicated on the Baird fee schedule, resulting in total overpayments of approximately $165,000, the FINRA said.
In addition, from May 1999 through January 2005, Baird failed to adequately disclose to its fee-based customers that assets held on margin – for which the customer might already be paying interest – and short sales were included as eligible assets for purposes of fee calculation, the FINRA said.
In settling this matter, the firm neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.
The FINRA is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. Investors can obtain more information about the matter at www.finra.org/brokercheck.
Acuity caps record year
Acuity Insurance wrote an all-time record amount of premium in personal lines in 2008, finishing the year at $196 million.
In commercial lines, the Sheboygan-based property and casualty insurer wrapped up 2008 with 82,044 policies, an all-time high. The insurer also set new benchmarks for quote issuing success, booking a record 38.1 percent of the quotes it issued. The 47,453 commercial lines quotes that independent agents submitted also was a record.
"Acuity’s results in 2008 show that we continue to build on the foundation of strength and stability that policyholders rely on to protect their personal and financial well-being and independent agents depend on to grow their own businesses," said Ben Salzmann, Acuity’s president and chief executive officer.
Obama unveils plan to stabilize housing market
The Obama administration unveiled a plan last week to help 9 million "at risk" homeowners modify the terms of their mortgages and stay in their homes.
President Barack Obama plans to announce the details of the plan later today in Arizona, one of the most decimated real estate markets in the nation.
Obama plans to commit $75 billion of taxpayer money to back the homeownership initiative.
His plan contains two separate programs. One is aimed at 4 million to 5 million homeowners struggling with loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to help them refinance their mortgages through the two institutions. Homeowners who have Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans who are having a difficult time refinancing and owe more than 80 percent of the value of their homes would be eligible to refinance with the program.
A separate program would be aimed at 3 million to 4 million homeowners by allowing them to modify their mortgages to lower monthly interest rates through any participating lender. With the plan, the lender would voluntarily lower the interest rate, and the government would provide subsidies to the lender.
"The plan I’m announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it; by modifying loans for families stuck in sub-prime mortgages they can’t afford as a result of skyrocketing interest rates or personal misfortune; and by taking broader steps to keep mortgage rates low so that families can secure loans with affordable monthly payments," Obama said in prepared remarks.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Commerce Department announced today that the collapse in the housing industry accelerated in January, as construction on new U.S. housing units plunged 16.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 466,000, the weakest levels of construction in the post-World War II era.
Housing starts have dropped at double-digit rates for the past three months.
Inlanta Mortgage adds in-house underwriting
Inlanta Mortgage, a Waukesha-based mortgage banker and broker, has added in-house underwriting to its extensive list of support services for loan officers and partner branches.
“With numerous, significant benefits in operating with in-house underwriting, we are pleased to bring this resource to our loan officers and branch partners,” said Jean Badciong, vice president of operations at Inlanta Mortgage.
Randy Burgei, a FHA Direct Endorsement Underwriter, has joined Inlanta Mortgage to develop the company’s in-house underwriting, insuring and shipping departments. He also helped the company achieve full Eagle status, meaning Inlanta will be able to originate and sell FHA-insured mortgages without prior approval from a sponsoring lender. With Burgei’s Direct Endorsement status, the company can streamline the application process and provide greater flexibility for originators and borrowers.
For more information, visit www.inlanta.com.