Bank executives testify on Capitol Hill

January 13, 2010 11:05:07 PM PST
The head of Bank of America and three other of the nation's biggest banks testified Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Former California state treasurer, turned congressman, Phil Angelides, D-Sacramento, is leading an inquiry into the causes of the financial meltdown. The bankers apologized, but that was about it.

Some might consider an apology for the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, too little too late and that was what was heard on Capitol Hill.

"We did eat our own cookie and we choked on it," said John Mack, the Chief Executive Officer of Morgan Stanley.

"We didn't see as clearly as I would've hopped the excesses," said Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The top executives of four big U.S. banks testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a 10-member panel created by Congress to examine the causes of the 2008 financial meltdown.

"Acts of God, we'll exempt. These were acts of men and women," said Angelides.

The commission, headed by Phil Angelides, is looking into the home mortgage crisis. And in the community of Antioch Fr. Robert Rien is particularly interested.

Last month Rein drove ABC7 around his parish that has been hard hit by the mortgage meltdown. And on Tuesday night he and several hundred residents met with representatives of Bank of America in hopes of working out some settlements.

"Well it didn't go well unfortunately and it was very disappointing," said Rien.

Rien says the bank representatives were not willing to negotiate.

"It's not fair it's not fair to the families, that they're paying on a $798,000 home when the home is only valued at $298,000," said Rien.

Rien wants the bank to lower the amount owed to what homes are currently worth much less.

A spokesman for Bank of America who attended Tuesday night's meeting told ABC7 the bank has "completed nearly 500,000 modifications... including more than 250,000 completed modifications in 2009 alone."

Regardless, the renegotiations have almost exclusively been on interest rates, not on the principal. The bank spokesman said lowering the amount of the mortgage would not be fair to the lenders.

Still, fairness is in the eye of the beholder. Father Rien asks what is fair about foreclosing on families while paying huge bonuses to bank employees. On Wednesday, the head of Bank of America defended those bonuses.

"While some employees were asked to leave the company over the past couple of years, we believe our 300,000 employees are a valuable part of our future and we need to pay them competitively to insure that we can keep them so they can help our clients," said Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America.

Wednesday's hearing was the first of many to come. Angelides says he plans to question hundreds of witnesses before delivering his report to Congress next December. Some analysts told ABC7 next December is about the time we will begin to see a second wave of foreclosures building as adjustable rate mortgages kick into higher interest rates over the next couple of years.

Bank of America had a lot more to say today. You can read the full statement here.