I'm fed up with Citibank. Make a payment a day late and they slam you with incredibly high interest, but try to get them to credit back disputed charges? It's wait, wait, and wait some more.
So yesterday, with $3,000 in charges that shoud be credited to my husband's account still generating income for Citibank after months of phone calls and letters, I decided to try to equalize this battle by getting help from the government entity that regulates the bank.
Now, these days "bank regulation" is something of an oxymoron. As we're all seeing every day in the headlines about the economic meltdown, regulating banks has been about as fashionable with the Bush Administration as raising taxes on oil company profits. But there are very specific consumer protection laws regarding credit cards, and usually when a bank gets an inquiry from a regulator--or a member of Congress--things suddenly get expedited.
But who exactly regulates Citibank? It turns out that the answer is not obvious.
I thought it might be the Federal Reserve, so I went to that website. There I discoverd that responsibility for regulating banks is split among six--that's SIX--different federal agencies. One regulates state banks that are members of the Federal Reserve--that' s the Fed itself. State banks not members of the Federal Reserve? That's the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation? National banks, supposedly identifiable by the word "national" in their name, or the initials N.A. after the name? They fall under the Comptroller of the Currency. Etc.
Believing that Citibank was probably a national bank, I took out my bill and then the credit card itself to look for "national" or "N.A." after the name. No such designation. Nothing telling me that if I have a complaint, that I can contact such-and-such an agency.
This is outrageous. Consumers who have complaints about the practices of their credit card company have to do research to figure out who regulates their bank.
Here's how to do that. The FDIC has a search engine that lets you enter the name of any bank. The information that it returns includes who regulates it. It turned out that, indeed, Citibank is a national bank and thus regulated by the FDIC. I will be pursuing my complaint with them.
But what's needed here is some disclosure. Every credit card statement should clearly disclose which agency regulates the issuer of the card and provide a web address, phone # and snail mail address for making a complaint.
The power equation between a bank and a consumer will always favor the bank, but disclosing the name of the regulator would certainly tip the balance a little in our direction.