Personal finance
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Weekly Wrap: Banking’s Spring Is Still Far, Far Away
Spring has sprung here in Brooklyn, sort of. As chain retailers and drugstores festoon themselves with pastels, eggs, flowers and other decorations that bring to mind the rebirth that comes with the new season, the thought comes to mind: wouldn’t it be lovely if the banking industry were to flourish this week, showing all the lovely pastels it had been hiding all winter?

Unfortunately that was not the case this week, as banking continued its dreary path through the doldrums of low profitability, with intermittent meanderings into cell phone witchcraft. Indeed, for banking, the groundhog has certainly seen his own shadow, and spring is far, far away.

Wells Fargo had the biggest news of the week, as far as products and fees are concerned. Ex-Wachovia customers, whose Essential Checking accounts had no fees, have finally been welcomed into the Wells Fargo family properly: with a new monthly fee. In the post-Durbin era, there is no slipping between the cracks.

But so long as banks publicly flaunt their profitability issues by introducing new fees, consumers will be there fight back. And Public Citizen, Ralph Nader’s consumers’ lobby, fired a shot right across Bank of America’s bow, in the form of a jokey animated video that reprises Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” — but this one calls for BofA to be broken up in to smaller businesses by regulators. Public Citizen knows, like you and I know, that regulators simply aren’t going to do that. In a media landscape where a large portion of the country can be whipped into a McCarthyite frenzy over the most innocuous of bureaucratic marginalia, it’s so incredibly unlikely that regulators would break up a bank whose branding incorporates the stars and bars that Public Citizen took the low road — taking potshots at the regulators they knew would ignore them anyway.

That won’t stop big banks from getting bigger, of course. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency approved Capital One’s acquisition of HSBC’s U.S. credit card business, valued at $30 billion. Capital One will hold its spot as fifth-biggest credit card lender in the country, with 7.2% market share. As they creep toward too-big-to-fail territory, one wonders whether Public Citizen is readying yet another doo-wop diss.

Soon, however, we won’t need to have civilized rhetoric about regulatory issues because we’ll only interact with machines. And, friends, that will be the day! This week was full of news in the mobile banking and mobile marketing space. Some highlights (or for the Luddites among us, bits of terrifying information) below:

* Square, the mobile card reader, launched an iPad app that turns the tablets into a point-of-sale terminal.
* American Express introduced a new promotion utilizing Twitter hashtags and merchant-funded rewards.
* Green Dot acquired a company called Loopt, which will enable them to offer location-based deals for their mobile customers.

There are bright spots, however, like Barclaycard’s Ring, a new credit card that offers users a seat at the table — they act as board members and product developers at once, offering feedback on the card and suggesting changes to features. All the cool stuff comes from Europe anyway, you know?

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