I am reminded twice a week how much I love NPR’s Planet Money podcast. Folks – these are some seriously smart reporters. And they are telling stories that desperately need to be told so Americans wake up. Subscribe, it’s free.
That said, their last show was outstanding. The crafty Planet Money team chased down Roberta, a lawyer hired by big banks to write credit card agreements and the other “legalese” that banks send us periodically. You know, the stuff you never read? The stuff lining your trash cans?
Roberta believes everyone should read credit card disclosures. She thinks they are perfectly clear… and to make them more clear would make them longer. Not shocking. That said, I wonder if she reads all the documents that come with the software she types in? Probably not. Microsoft creates Word, an intuitive product for non-software engineers to use, so people like Roberta can create documents that only lawyers can to understand. (!!)
Chana asks Roberta if a bank has ever asked her to bury something deceiving in a disclosure. Roberta says no; I believe her. However, what Roberta clearly doesn’t understand… simply by employing her, the banks can bury something. Everything that comes off her keyboard is stuff that they want buried.
Banks have lots of channels to communicate with their customers. For example, they don’t call Roberta when they want to make a TV commercial. She isn’t responsible for the brochures that waxes so poetically about home equity line benefits. Clearly, she isn’t employed to instruct customers how to make their monthly payments, either.
Rather, someone at the bank decides what Roberta communicates based on her oblique communication skills. I will be seriously impressed with the Planet Money team when they interview that someone.
* To be fair – Microsoft has a software license agreement too. But, when you can’t figure out how to bold something, they don’t expect you to have read the SLA.