Saturday, April 14, 2012

Returning America to its Capitalistic Roots

by Thomas Hinton

It should come as no surprise that consumers are frustrated and downright angry at corporate America. We’re especially angry with big banks and big oil. After five years of economic hardship and financial carnage not much has improved for the average consumer. America’s economic forecast is cloudy at best.

There’s a lot of blame to go around for the economic mess we’re in, but at the root of our financial problems is the growing culture of greed that permeates Corporate America and, specifically, big oil and big banks. The One Percenters, as they’ve been labeled by the Occupy Wall Street movement, have grossly misinterpreted what American capitalism is all about.

The corporate vultures do not represent the best economic interest of our nation, nor the world. In fact, they represent what is blatantly wrong with America, and their behavior is both disgusting and criminal. I do not use the word criminal lightly. Their misdeeds and governance actions have undermined the basic freedoms guaranteed to every American as prescribed in our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, our nation’s two most sacred documents. When the basic rights of Americans – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – are compromised by corporate malfeasance under the pretense of a company’s right to make a profit, government has both a responsibility and obligation to protect the interests of its citizens. Regrettably, this is not happening because our elected officials have been unduly compromised by lobbyists and brainwashed into believing a big bank, insurance company or automaker is too big to fail. Such thinking further undermines the basic tenets of American capitalism.

We all know who these corporate culprits are. Their corporate names are household words. Their signage and logos adorn skyscrapers and buildings in every major city across the nation. Many of these companies are led by unindicted crooks who knowingly endorsed programs, schemes and policies that undermined the housing industry – the most sacred cornerstone of the American Dream, created epic levels of unemployment and under-employment, and stripped millions of American of their financial dignity by manipulating investment markets that eroded retirement plans and savings accounts.

All of this happened under the blind eye of our federal government and elected officials. Our federal and state governments have done little to hold these corporate leaders accountable for their brazen abuses or protect consumers from another financial meltdown. While the nation’s attorneys general should be applauded for their efforts to sue big banks in an effort to help distressed homeowners, President Obama and the Congress continue to reward these corporate culprits with government bailouts and gentle slaps on the wrist. Is it any wonder that so many Americans have lost faith in their leaders and their ability to initiate meaningful change? Is it any wonder that consumers are frustrated, angry and bitter about their dwindling economic prospects let alone the economic prospects of our children?

Five years after the financial debacle was perpetrated by big banks with the approving nod of the Federal Reserve, SEC and other federal agencies, millions of Americans remain mired in the economic mud created by investment houses and big banks. It continues to be a very slow and painful financial recovery for millions of consumers; and, all of this is happening while big banks and big oil amass outrageous profits at the expense of struggling America’s consumers.

Can consumers do anything to stop this harmful trend besides transferring their bank accounts to credit unions and limiting their driving so they buy less gas? I think the answer is a resounding yes! Consumers ultimately control the power of the purse and the economic fortunes of a nation because we can choose where and how to spend our money. We can also choose to dethrone those elected officials who contributed to our economic misfortunes. In the final analysis, consumers can regain control of their economic destiny by standing up for what is right with America and demand big banks and big oil honor the true spirit of American Capitalism – making a fair profit while raising the fortunes of society.

About the Author:
Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer advocacy and financial education organization with over 126,000 members. He can be reached at

Friday, January 27, 2012

Airlines Should Get Aboard with the new Truth-in-Advertising Rules

This week, Ray LaHood, the Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation, announced new rules that require domestic airlines to include all taxes and fees in airline ticket prices. These new rules are common sense and are good for consumers.

Surprisingly, Southwest, Allegiant and Spirit Airlines are resisting this “truth in advertising” policy by suing the US-DOT over the new rules. The airlines are arguing that the new requirements make the rules for the airline industry more stringent than any other. That’s utter nonsense! The fact is consumers are fed-up with the airlines lousy service, unfair pricing rules, non-disclosure of upfront costs for baggage, meals and ticket changes. This is why Secretary LaHood and US-DOT should resist any changes to their new rules. Consumers deserve honesty and full disclosure from the airlines.

Frankly, I’m surprised by Southwest Airlines’ involvement in the lawsuit. As one who regularly flies Southwest, I think it might tarnish their otherwise sterling reputation. Southwest Airlines has been an industry leader and a role model for domestic airlines in many ways – their consistent profitability, a very strong safety record, low fares, free baggage, customer-friendly flight attendants who know how to make passengers smile and laugh during the safety announcements, and the most user-friendly website in the industry, bar none.

On the other hand Spirit Airlines has earned a reputation for nickel-and-diming its passengers for everything! So, their position in the lawsuit is understandable. They want to continue to lure prospective passengers onto their website by disguising low fares before hammering them with various fees and charges after passengers have purchased the ticket. These are the very types of unfair pricing tactics that Secretary LaHood is trying to stop.

In fact, Spirit Airlines and AirTran Airways, which is owned by Southwest, were fined a combined $90,000 for violating the pricing rules in advertisements such as emails, tweets and on their websites. Allegiant Airlines was fined in 2009 for not including a convenience fee in initial fare quotes. Need I say more?

The airlines have had their way for too many years. They have consistently practiced unfair and devious pricing schemes to lure passengers onto their flights and making record profits in the process. But, a growing number of complaints by consumers prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement new rules which are based on fairness, truth-in-advertising and full disclosure. Frankly, these new rules are long overdue and the airlines ought to quit their pouting and do the right thing by consumers.

The turbulence surrounding the new Department of Transportation rules amounts to little more than belly-aching from the airlines that must now be honest and forthright with consumers. It’s one more reason why a strong government watchdog agency like the U.S. Department of Transportation is necessary. Without such rules in place, airlines would continue to use unfair pricing tactics and unscrupulous methods to lure travelers onto their planes. Am I exaggerating? Not at all! Just read what the lobbying group, All Airlines for America (A4A) stated in the legal brief they filed with the D.C. Court of Appeals in support of the lawsuit by Spirit, Allegiant and Southwest Airlines.

In its legal filing, A4A said, "ATA members share DOT’s stated objective of ensuring that customers are treated fairly and consistently, receiving the products and services for which they have paid on the basis advertised to them. But ATA members do not share DOT’s unstated, but apparent, goal of holding airlines to much higher standards of conduct than prevail in other deregulated industries."

In other words, the airlines don’t like being held accountable to the same common sense practices and fairness standards that American consumers expect from every other industry. Are you kidding me? And, remember, folks this is the same industry that has gutted its workforce, stripped its talented and dedicated employees of fair wages and benefits and moved to decertify its unions. No wonder consumers are frustrated and outraged at the questionable pricing practices used by so many of our nation’s airlines. Perhaps, the airlines should simply mind their Ps and Qs and be lucky Secretary La Hood isn’t pushing for re-regulating the airlines!

About the Author:
Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with over 120,000 members. He can be reached at

Monday, November 7, 2011

American Consumers Drop Banks Over F.E.E.S.

by Thomas Hinton

In an era when consumers are frustrated with Wall Street and big banks, it’s not surprising that more than 675,000 people responded to the social media movement known as Transfer Day to drop their banking relationships in favor of credit unions and small community banks. What is surprising is this. Anyone with a checking account – and that’s about 200 million Americans -- knows that changing financial institutions is not a simple process. It takes time and the process requires a small mountain of forms, paperwork, documentation and signatures in order to complete the process.

But, when you consider how upset and angry consumers are with banks for threatening to raise debit card fees and charging for traditional services that were once free, it’s not surprising that consumers are walking across the street to start new banking relationships with credit unions and smaller community banks.

We refer to this consumer syndrome as “FEES” which stands for “Feeling the Economic Effects.” There’s no question consumers are in financial pain and their response to the insensitivity of big banks has been to pull their accounts in favor of small community banks and credit unions that are renowned for their customer service and friendly banking terms.

While the percentage of new customers that have made the switch from major banks to credit unions and community banks since October 1 is very small – less than one-half percent according to the American Consumer Council -- and their deposits represent less than $5 billion, the switch of that many customers in a six-week period should send a clear distress signal to major banks and their trade associations that consumers have had enough! Banks need to change their policies and customer relations practices if they want to stop the bleeding and start to win back disaffected consumers.

The American Consumer Council forecasts that one percent of consumers, approximately two million people, ultimately will switch their banking relationships to credit unions and community banks in the next 90 days. Such a dramatic shift by consumers will certainly help credit unions and community banks raise their visibility and improve their low-profile image among middle-class consumers who have suffered the most economic pain since 2008. It will also put credit unions on the radar screen with millions of disenfranchised consumers who have yet to make the switch, but are now talking to friends and relatives about their financial frustrations.

What else do the Transfer Day numbers tell us? Well, when you consider that the number of consumers who have already switched to credit unions is nearly double the number predicted by the organizers of the Transfer Day movement, that’s significant. What it tells me – and the American Consumer Council agrees – is that future anti-bank social media campaigns will continue; and, subsequent campaigns will morph into much larger movements that will attract more consumers to credit unions and community banks at the expense of large banks.

It also tells me that there is a major under-current gaining strength in the United States that will embolden consumers to take on bigger fish such as the oil giants, pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists, trade associations and even local, state and national governments that are grossly out-of-touch with millions of consumers who feel as though the American Dream is slipping away from them and their children. The harsh reality is this. It is slipping away, and consumers are not going to lay down and allow that to happen.

About the Author. Thomas Hinton is president and chief executive officer of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with more than 116,000 members and 44 state consumer council affiliates. For more information:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

American Consumers Take to the Streets and Banks!

by Thomas Hinton

Despite the continued economic hardships facing so my Americans, this has been a fascinating week for redressing the rights of millions of disaffected consumers. Although the Occupy Wall Street movement is losing some momentum, the average middle-class consumer found a new way to organize and vent their frustration with major banks. The negative response among consumers began when major banks threatened to charge a monthly debit card transaction fee. The outcry was fast and loud!

Then, on Friday, November 4, Transfer Day occurred. This event was organized by consumer groups to encourage millions of unhappy bank customers to move their accounts to credit unions and smaller community banks that enjoy a reputation of being member-focused and customer-driven not to mention great customer service!

Organizations like the non-profit consumer education group, the American Consumer Council, reported more than 1,400 new members joined its ranks in order to lend their voice to consumer concerns and affiliate with a credit union associated with ACC’s network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reports that customers moved an estimated $4.8 billion to credit unions in the past five weeks since the debit card fee debacle first aired.

While most large banks have abandoned their plans to levy a monthly debit card fee, the damage has already been done to their credibility and integrity. Consumers were already frustrated and angry at major banks and investment firms dating back to 2008, when the recession started and U.S. taxpayers were required to lend billions of dollars in bailout money to major Wall Street firms and banks. So, Transfer Day was one way for consumers to vent their anger at the very people who got us into this economic mess – the 1%, if you will, who have been the target of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Granted, the transfer of nearly $5 billion from major banks to credit unions and community banks is a meager sum, but it’s a start. Hopefully, Transfer Day caught the attention of the major banks who now know that consumers will vote with their feet and no longer hesitate to uproot their financial accounts and move their money to consumer-friendly credit unions and community banks that really do care about people.

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education and advocacy organization with over 116,000 members and 46 state affiliate consumer councils. Mr. Hinton is a popular speaker at corporate and association events on consumer issues and trends. Contact:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Foul Mood of American Consumers

There’s no question that 2011 is fast becoming “the year that wasn’t!” Consumers had high hopes that the American economy would begin to rebound in 201 after three dismal years, but that hasn’t been the case.

Blame it on Wall Street, the Congress, President Obama or even the European economic mess – but the stark reality is consumers continue to feel the strain and pinch of high unemployment, upside-down mortgages, foreclosure pressures and shrinking incomes.

While the United States is no longer immune to global economic hiccups, we have the ability to fix our own economic house and put Americans back to work. What’s frustrating is nothing substantive is getting done in Washington to solve these national issues and consumers are both disenchanted and ready to fight back.

Certainly, there’s pent-up demand among consumers to purchase new vehicles, make overdue home repairs, purchase household goods and get back to some sense of normalcy. But, as long as consumers lack confidence in our national government to jump-start the process with meaningful solutions, they’ll continue to sit on the sidelines and wait. Obviously, this will only prolong our economic challenges since two-thirds of our national economic growth is consumer-driven.

A year ago, I predicted that fed-up citizens would make their voices heard. That has happened through the “Occupy Wall Street” protests not only in the United States, but around the world. Frankly, people are fed-up! Surveys and polls suggest that the next significant action on the part of consumers will be a major voter revolt in 2012. Americans will voice their frustration at the polls by “voting the ins out!” Political parties aside, it appears no incumbent will be safe in 2012. There is a growing sense that voters will choose to “throw the bums out” and seek a fresh start – one that is built on cooperation and progress.

Given Congress’ dismal record, a national house-cleaning is in order. If incumbents want to hold onto their jobs they had better address the economic woes of consumers – and fast! The clock is ticking.

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with more than 116,000 members across the nation and 46 state affiliates.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Citizens of the World Want and Deserve: The Egyptian Lesson

by Thomas Hinton

It’s both disturbing and encouraging to see the strife taking place in Egypt and Tunisia. In America, we take for granted so many of our basic rights and entitlements that are causing millions of citizens to take to the streets in protest of the policies of their authoritarian governments. It’s disturbing because the very rights and opportunities these people are demanding are basic economic building blocks that every citizen should enjoy regardless of where they live or the religion they practice – freedom of speech, the opportunity to live in an economic environment that offers hope for a better life, and the right to assemble without being shot or attacked by armed thugs operating under the guise of self-serving politicians.

What is playing out in Egypt and Tunisia is also encouraging because the voice of the people is finally being heard. And, it is being heard not only in the streets, but within the inner sanctums of every repressive government around the world.

Some commentators have suggested the Arab uprisings are being fueled by fanatics and religious extremists. There’s little, if any, evidence to support such claims. I believe these protests are the result of frustrated consumers who see unlimited economic opportunities in neighboring countries and throughout western societies. Unfulfilled, exasperated and without any chance to climb the economic ladder of success, these well-intentioned protesters are asking a basic human question of their tyrannical leaders: “Why can’t we enjoy the good life?” Not only is it a fair question, but one that every government should respond to or face defeat. But, governments that exploit their citizenry don’t believe they need to answer such questions because they are not in the business of lifting-up the masses. They’re in the business of suppressing human and economic rights and controlling citizens in brutal fashion.

This is why leaders like ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak do not remain in power. People will only tolerate so much before they take to the streets. What is happening in Egypt and Tunisia are consumer-citizens demanding the same economic opportunities afforded to a handful of people in their country and the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Certainly, that is a fair demand.

No nation’s leadership can suppress the population forever and outlast the will of its people. This is why I believe there is still great economic hope for the people of Iran, North Korea, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, China, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As we have seen in Egypt, it only takes a few thousand people to ignite the flames of economic freedom and bring about significant constitutional change as well as new political leadership.

In this era of social networking and instant global communication, it’s not surprising that on a Friday afternoon, a handful of well-intentioned thought leaders can tweet or Facebook their friends to rally in the main square and, by Monday morning, ministers are resigning and corrupt leaders are making plans to flee the country.

Frankly, it’s consumerism at its best!

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with over 107,000 members. He can be reached at

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Jobs Factor: Leadership is at the Core of Apple's Success

by Tom Hinton

It's fascinating to observe the transformation taking place at Apple as co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs prepares to take another medical leave of absence. Given the fact that Apple stock is ranked second only to ExxonMobil in terms of its market value, there's much at stake as Jobs steps down albeit temporarily. Despite jobs' reassurance that he will remain engaged in major decisions, Apple stock has fluctuated mildly since his announcement. Analysts and stock strategists are obviously concerned about Apple's future without Steve Jobs, but so far, that concern is not stopping investors from purchasing Apple stock. Of greater concern to Apple are the millions of devoted Apple fans around the world who have come to rely on the company and its CEO as their compass for high-tech innovation and wizardry. So far, Apple's adoring fans are solidly behind the company and comfortable with Jobs' medical leave decision.

As one who teaches managers how to become better leaders, I'm intrigued by the "Jobs Factor" as I like to call it. There's no question that Steve Jobs is the face of Apple. As USA Today reported, during Jobs' second term as CEO, which began in August 1997, Apple's stock has soared more than 7,273% versus a 67% gain for Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. That's impressive whether you're an Apple fan or not! It's clear that as CEO, Jobs has inspired a rebirth at Apple leading to such innovative marvels as the iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Stores and the burgeoning industry knows as Apps – slang for Applications – that support all these new products. In short, Apple has transformed how a generation communicates, learns, listens to music and socializes. Steve Jobs continues to demonstrate his brilliance and his Midas touch.

Over the past 100 years, very few leaders have had as great an impact on transforming our world as Steve Jobs. Certainly Thomas Edison, Alfred Sloan (GM), Sam Walton (WalMart), Walt Disney, Bill Gates (Microsoft), Henry Ford, Thomas J. Watson (IBM), Ray Kroc (McDonalds), Estee Lauder, Richard Branson (Virgin), Philip H. Knight (Nike), Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Welch (GE) merit mention. In 2005, Fast Company published an outstanding list of the 100 Greatest Business Leaders of the 20th Century which included Steven P. Jobs at #26.

And so, as Steve Jobs prepares to step aside as CEO for medical reasons, the question behind the question is this. First, will Apple continue its rabid success once Steve Jobs steps down? Secondly, how does a company like Apple design a succession plan to ensure the company's continued success and growth? The second question is profoundly important when the CEO, Steve Jobs, is considered a god among his colleagues, competitors and the business media. The fact is that while Tim Cook can succeed him, no one can replace Steve Jobs.

While no one knows the answers to these key questions, I think Steve Jobs has a surprise in store for all of us. I think Jobs' greatest contribution to Apple will be revealed as he steps aside as CEO and allows Apple's senior leadership team to stand on its own. Remember, Steve Jobs has hired, trained and developed these people over the past 14 years. Jobs' goal has been to ensure Apple's profitability and product success will continue long after he is gone.

Interestingly, for Steve Jobs, this is not unchartered territory. When Jobs resigned as Apple CEO in September 1985 after a bitter confrontation with his board of directors, he was succeeded by a series of less-than-successful CEOs. During Jobs' 12-year absence from Apple, he had time to reflect on his successes and mistakes as a leader, innovator and business strategist. One of the mistakes Jobs acknowledged and vowed not to repeat was hiring the wrong people to lead the largest (and greatest) technology company in the world.

Now, Steve Jobs can step aside knowing he has in place a solid executive management team with capable leaders like Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook and Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer. These leaders have been schooled in how Jobs thinks and fosters creativity and innovation at Apple. They embrace the Apple culture and will maintain its current course to greater successes. Despite the concerns that Steve Jobs' temporary departure from Apple is causing to Wall Street and the business media, I am confident that Apple will continue to outperform its competition because Steve Jobs has learned how to create a culture of excellence and innovation that now permeates all levels of the world's greatest tech company.

About the Author: Tom Hinton is president and CEO of the American Consumer Council. The author of four books, Mr. Hinton is a popular speaker at corporate and association meetings on Leadership, Customer Service and Creating a Culture of Excellence in the Workplace. For information, contact: