Consumer advocates urge Fed to reject Capital One-ING merger
Consumer advocates Tuesday focused their criticism of the proposed Capital One Financial Corp. (COF) acquisition of ING Direct USA (ING) on what they described as Capital One’s predatory lending practices and inadequate commitment to reinvest in local communities. Although the bank has pledged to invest $180 billion over 10 years in low- and moderate-income communities if its $9 billion deal to purchase ING Direct’s U.S. unit is approved, advocates say that’s not enough and that the Federal Reserve Board must block the merger. "Capital One has not made their case that the increase in systemic risk is outweighed by a significant public benefit," said Jesse Van Tol, director of communications for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, in a conference call Tuesday with the California Reinvestment Coalition, the Greenlining Institute, and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. John Finneran, general counsel and corporate secretary for McLean, Va.-based Capital One, disputed that characterization in testimony at a Federal Reserve hearing in September. "Neither Capital One nor ING Direct provides the types of critical financial services the disruption of which could pose significant risk to financial stability in the U.S.," he said. A Capital One spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The acquisition, which would make Capital One the nation’s fifth-largest lender by deposits, is the first the Federal Reserve is reviewing under new laws outlined in the Dodd-Frank Act that require regulators to consider a merger’s potential to create a too-big-to-fail financial institution. In addition to raising concerns about the bank’s massive size should the merger go through, Van Tol pointed out that Capital One has announced it intends to wind down ING’s mortgage portfolio, now the seventh-largest in the country. Community advocates described the acquisition as nothing more than a means for Capital One to extend the reach of its credit card business, which they say preys on minority and low-income consumers, miring them in a spiral of fees and rising interest rates that can wreck their credit and limit their access to other financial products, like home loans. Capital One is "just a credit card company disguised as a bank," said Preeti Vissa, director of the Greenlining Institute’s community reinvestment program. The Fed will hold the third in a series of three public hearings on the merger Wednesday in San Francisco. The fact the hearings are even being held suggests the Fed is taking its duties very seriously and could impose conditions on the merger, said Alan Fisher, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition. Van Tol pointed out that some of the community organizations protesting the merger were among the first to sound the alarm about the risky lending practices by Countrywide and other mortgage lenders that led to the housing crisis. "It would be a mistake to dismiss these concerns without giving credence to what we’re saying here," he said. Write to Liz Enochs.