In 2014, banks paid more in fines than in any year before. Around the world, banks have paid $56 billion in fines and settlements according to the Financial Times.
The skyrocketing number of settlements and the amounts of those settlements reflect increased efforts on the part of American and UK policing agencies. Following the 2007 financial crisis, officials with the Justice Department and its partners increased their efforts to punish the banking industry for its abuses of consumers.
Just this summer, Bank of America agreed to pay $17 billion in a settlement with the Justice Department for its sales of mortgage-back securities.
Criminal prosecutions need to follow the stiff rhetoric and the rising settlements and fines. Without this, there is little to deter bankers from seeing the settlements and fines as just the cost of doing business.
Fines could be a strong deterrent, in theory, if they were for an amount that threatened the livelihood of the bank. Unfortunately, settlements are often structured to avoid this risk. Instead, regulators fear that should they actually injure the bank’s bottom-line, they may cause precisely the crisis they are supposed to prevent.
This year’s record-high settlement and fine amounts show that the industry has positioned itself firmly where regulators are afraid to regulate. Until either the fines truly become large enough that the banks fear paying them, or bank executives start going to jail, there can be little hope that the banks will clean up their act.
|Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.|