Nearly an hour into this week's Presidential debate, Republican candidate Mitt Romney made a very disturbing statement that the media overlooked, focusing instead on the shiny object he waved in front of us. When Jim Lehrer questioned Romney on the Dodd-Frank Act, Romney responded, "I would repeal it and replace it." While the media is busy reporting on Romney's apparent flip-flop on banking regulation, they're ignoring the heart of the matter: Dodd-Frank provides very important protections and incentives for financial whistleblowers who can become millionaires for reporting the truth about where they work.
The problem the financial industry has is not with government regulation. Regardless of which candidate wins this election, the government is not likely to enforce any real regulations against the banks. The real issue they have is that we, the people, are empowered by Dodd-Frank to take matters into our own hands. When every employee of the bank is encouraged to speak up about fraudulent activities they see, the "too big to fail" banks are left with no place to hide their wrong doings. They can lobby and throw money at politicians, but they can't fool all of their employees all of the time. Romney wants to repeal this law because it is a powerful weapon that evens the playing field in this class war we are entrenched in.
I don't make these statements from the same ivory tower Romney and Obama inhabit. I'm just a poor college student with no health care who walks and takes the bus everywhere. I sleep on the floor of a small apartment in a low class neighborhood because it's all I can afford. My life wasn't always this way though...
Five years ago when the economy was on the verge of collapse and the housing crisis was in its infancy stages, I worked for a large mortgage company called Countrywide Home Loans. I didn't just work with CHL loans though. I worked in insurance and foreclosure tracking for multiple lenders, including IndyMac Bank (now known as IndyMac Federal) and Aurora Loan Services (a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers Holdings). When my company collapsed, my job and way of life was saved when a large multinational bank named Bank of America stepped in to purchase Countrywide. After watching the value of our 401k and employee stock accounts collapse, my colleagues and I were relieved to be given the opportunity to continue working and providing for our families by the Bank of Opportunity themselves.
My enthusiasm did not last long, however. While working for Countrywide, my job was to fix problems, and being an ethical and moral person, I lacked the ability to distinguish between problems that saved/made the bank money and problems that saved borrowers money. A problem is a problem and a discrepancy is a discrepancy. I have been asked to perform many duties during my tenure with Countrywide that violated my personal code of ethics, and I assumed that with the transition to Bank of America, this would stop. I assumed my concerns would be investigated and corrected. I assumed wrong.
Instead I got demoted and was retaliated against to the point where I was forced to quit my job to escape the harsh working conditions. They didn't just let me walk away. They made an example out of me for everyone at the bank to see. On my final day working with the bank, Bank of America's corporate security went so far as to call in a false bomb threat as a way to scare my former colleagues and friends from having any contact with me. These employees were kept in a building they were told was in danger of exploding. They were taken into bank offices, shown my picture, and told to confess and turn in any communications they've ever had with me, whether email, text, IM, or otherwise. Pictures of me were distributed to ensure every employee knew what happens to people who dare speak up against the bank. I have never been charged with any crime in connection with this incident, but my reputation was effectively ruined. People I once considered to be friends turned their backs on me for fear of being fired. Up until that point, I viewed myself simply as an honest man doing my job. I now realize that I am a whistleblower.
Life as a whistleblower is difficult. Nobody teaches you what to do. Everyone around you calls you crazy or treats you like you have a disease. I've faced many challenges, but I've learned a lot throughout my journey. One of the most important things I've learned is that Dodd-Frank is a vital piece of legislation. The whistleblower provisions in this act go a long way in protecting other whistleblowers from going through the pain and struggles I experienced. If you're a bank employee and want to take a shot at receiving a whistleblower payout for being an honest person, here are a few tips I've learned:
Be Aware - The banks are so compartmentalized that you may not even realize you're a part of a fraudulent system. From your perspective, you may just be putting a 3 in a field on a system. These are real people's accounts you're dealing with. That 3 does something. Find out what it is.
Search The Internet - Think of all the terms you use every day. Do an internet search for these words. Find out what they mean. Contact the journalists writing about them. You may know more than you think, but the only way you'll ever find out is by talking to someone.
If You See Something Wrong, Document It - Blowing the whistle isn't about telling the truth, it's about proving the truth. Nobody knows how your section of the bank works except you. The more examples you have, the better.
Don't Be Afraid - Intimidation is a common tactic used against whistleblowers. Stand up for what you believe in and never back down. Everyone around you will tell you it's not worth the fight. I've walked that path, and I can assure you that it is.
Be Patient and Persistent - People may not listen when you first blow the whistle. It's not that you're wrong. No matter what position you work in a bank, you are an expert in a specific corner of finance that nobody understands except you and your coworkers. When I started nearly 2 years ago, I couldn't find anyone who knew what Force-Placed Insurance was. I kept pushing, and now it's a popular buzzword amongst mortgage regulators and journalists.
Act Immediately - The cafeterias and break rooms at the banks are filled with people complaining about issues that aren't being fixed. You're all waiting for someone else to fix this problem. That knight in shining armor is never coming. You are the only person who can fix this situation.
I used to work alongside you. Many of you know me and know that I was once just like you. Now there's not a financial regulator, class action attorney, mortgage servicing executive, or journalist in this country that works with Force-Placed Insurance and doesn't know my name. I may not have gotten a whistleblower bonus yet. I may never get one. I wasn't lucky enough to have a guy like me to offer guidance. I am, however, a respected expert with a sought after opinion in my field. Most importantly I'm happier than I've ever been in my life. If you feel like there's something missing in your life, it may just be the guilt of working for a company we both know is committing fraud. Call someone who cares. You know where to find me...