TIME Banking

This Is the Most Valuable Bank In The World

A woman walks past teller machines at a Wells Fargo bank in San Francisco, California.
Robert Galbraith—Reuters Wells Fargo promised to enact new Temporary Leave Underwriting Guidelines and educate their loan officers.

Forget the big investment banks, it's all about the basics here.

Forget those flashy big-name banks that always snag headlines. The title for world’s most valuable bank goes to Wells Fargo & Co.

The San Francisco-based bank recently zoomed past Industrial & Commercial Bank of China as the bank with the largest market value worldwide, reported the Wall Street Journal. Wells Fargo is worth $301.6 billion. That’s $40 billion more than J.P. Morgan Chase and almost $120 more than Citigroup.

As China’s stock market struggles and the relative strength of the U.S. economy continues to grow, it’s been a boon to American banks like Wells Fargo. ICBC and Wells Fargo have continually battled for the global top spot, and Wells Fargo first passed it in value in 2013. But, Chinese banks are facing new growth obstacles as the economy inches along, slowing down their expansion significantly from long-running double-digit growth. ICBC shares have fallen about 19% in the past three months, the WSJ reported.

Wells Fargo’s stock has gained 12.4% so far this year, making it the seventh-largest stock in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. However, when it comes to the largest U.S. bank by assets, that title is still held by J.P. Morgan.

Wells Fargo’s booming market value is a credit to its relatively simple style of business. It doesn’t rely on subprime loans, complex derivatives or risky trades funded by borrowed money. Instead, it focuses on its core units like consumer lending, banking services and mortgage origination. That straight-forward approach may be why Warren Buffett has long been the bank’s largest shareholder (and one of Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies).

READ MORE: The big banks of the Fortune 500 that keep getting bigger.

TIME Cuba

Doing Business In Cuba Just Got A Whole Lot Easier

A man drives his taxi past a Cultural Center with the word "Cuba" on it, in Havana, Cuba,, April 14, 2015
Desmond Boylan—AP A man drives his taxi past a Cultural Center in Havana on April 14, 2015

A Florida bank established the first connection with a Cuban counterpart since President Obama’s December decision to open up relations between the two nations.

Stonegate Bank and Banco Internacional de Comercio S.A. (BICSA) signed a deal on Tuesday in Havana that would establish a correspondent account for the Florida-based bank on the island, making it easier for U.S. companies doing business in Cuba to process transactions directly, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Correspondent accounts allow banks to send money back and forth across international borders. Some U.S. business transactions in Cuba use U.S. treasury licenses, but all commercial deals end up going through banks in third countries, adding another step to the process.

These kinds of accounts have come under close scrutiny by federal regulators due to their historical ties to money laundering and other criminal activities, and banks have been hesitant to work with counterparts in other nations that don’t have strong oversight of their banking systems. Cuba has been labeled “high-risk” by the Financial Action Task Force, an organization that supports policies to prevent money laundering.

“We did an extensive risk-management approach to this,” Stonegate Bank CEO Dave Seleski, told the Wall Street Journal. “We feel very comfortable that we did something that is very low risk.”

The move could be the first step toward closer financial ties between the two nations, including the eventual approval of the use of credit cards in Cuba. U.S. credit cards don’t currently work on the island, though the companies have said they would start processing transactions this year.

TIME Banking

This Major New Banking Rule Takes Effect Today

Paul Volcker
Bloomberg/Getty Images Paul Volcker in 2013.

The Volcker Rule is meant to prevent banks from making certain risky bets

A rule that was supposed to be implemented back in 2010 becomes a reality Wednesday five years after its inception.

The so-called Volcker Rule, which is Section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, is meant to restrict big U.S. banks from making risky speculative bets with funds from their own accounts through proprietary trading. The intent was to keep banks from the kind of hedging that puts customers in danger, helping to prevent another crisis like the one that brought the American economy to its knees in 2008.

The rule was initially scheduled for implementation in July 2010, but was repeatedly delayed. It is colloquially named for the economist who came up with it: former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker, who led the economic recovery advisory board President Barack Obama assembled in 2009.

There have been successful lawsuits seeking to change the initial proposal over the past few years — as well as the requisite slew of media reports about bankers anxiously anticipating the rule’s implementation. But now, as the New York Times reports, the rule “was greeted with a shrug.” Many of the banks to be governed under the rule, including Bank of America, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs, have killed off a number of practices that may fall under its restrictions, including their proprietary trading (“prop desk,” in Wall Street speak) operations. Goldman’s prop desk went to the P.E. firm KKR in 2010.

The Financial Times reported this week that the rule’s arrival has led many banks to quickly sell off certain securities, such as CLOs (Collateralized Loan Obligations), which cull together high-risk corporate loans and would constitute a violation of the rule if they were obtained after January 2014.

As the Times points out, there is still widespread uncertainty about exactly how the Volcker Rule will be enforced. Banks may sound blasé and unconcerned for the moment, but come later this summer, regulators will begin the first audits for compliance.

MONEY Banking

5 Reasons Why You Should Totally Ignore Bank Sign-Up Bonuses

150630_FF_BankSignupBonus
Mike Kemp—Corbis

Thanks, but no thanks.

An offer of $25, $50 or even $200 to switch your accounts to a new bank can be very tempting. Who wouldn’t want the extra cash? But before you agree to move your money to a new institution, read the small print that comes with the offer, and consider other factors, such as account fees, restrictions and how happy you are with your current bank.

You may decide that a sign-up reward isn’t a good enough reason to switch. Here are five reasons why it may make sense to skip the bonus offer.

1. You could end up paying more in bank fees

Many banks that offer sign-up bonuses require you to keep a minimum balance, and that amount could be as high as $1,500. If your account dips below that level, you may have to pay monthly fees of $12 or more, which could eventually wipe out the bonus.

The account could also have overdraft fees, which are often around $25 per instance. You might be careful with your budget, but one overdrawn check could be costly. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, overdraft and non-sufficient-funds fees “represent 60% or more of consumer checking account fee income” for banks.

If you’re trying to cut expenses, a free or low-cost checking account at a bank that doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus but has lower fees could be a better deal.

2. The bonus may not be as big as it seems

Shantel Moses of Brooklyn, New York, says she received a sign-up bonus of $50 to join an online bank a few years ago.

“Everything was great until it came time to do my taxes,” Moses says. That’s because the bank sent her a form stating that the bonus should be counted as taxable income, she says. When you consider the tax bite, the size of any bonus may not be worth the hassle of switching accounts.

“After taxes, the 50 bucks was really more like 30 bucks,” Moses says.

3. There will probably be restrictions

Some banks require you to enroll in direct deposit before you can receive the bonus offer. If an automatic deposit isn’t received within a certain timeframe — say, 60 days — you might not get the benefit at all.

Another common requirement is to complete a certain number of debit-card transactions each month. If you sign up for a checking account to get a cash bonus, but then have to use your debit card to make eight purchases every 30 days, you might end up spending the bonus just to meet the terms of the account.

Banks may also require you to keep your account open for 90 days before you’re eligible for the reward. Even then, it could take an extra couple of weeks for the funds to arrive.

4. You could get hit with an account closing fee

If you choose to switch from one bank to another to get a sign-up bonus, but you opened your last account within the past year, your old bank may charge you money to close the account. Some financial institutions have fees of around $25 to close an account that was opened within the previous 180 days.

5. You could still get a bonus without switching

When Moses joined her online bank, she decided there was no need to switch again. After a while, she noticed the bank was offering rewards for referrals.

“I referred my niece, and got another bonus,” Moses says. She was able to get a reward without having to change banks.

If you receive a sign-up bonus offer from a bank, it’s smart to compare that offer with your other options. You may decide that it’s better to pass on the bonus in favor of another financial institution’s offerings that could give you more bang for your buck.

More From NerdWallet:

MONEY Travel

5 Things American Travelers Should Know If They’re Visiting Greece

Supporters of the NO vote in the upcoming referendum, gather during a rally at Syntagma square in Athens on Monday, June 29, 2015. Anxious Greek pensioners swarmed closed bank branches and long lines snaked outside ATMs as Greeks endured the first day of serious controls on their daily economic lives ahead of a July 5 referendum that could determine whether the country has to ditch the euro currency and return to the drachma.
Petros Karadjias—AP Supporters of the NO vote in the upcoming referendum, gather during a rally at Syntagma square in Athens on Monday, June 29, 2015.

Greece-bound tourists could be in for some hassles—or worse.

The crisis in Greece has caused the closure of local banks and brought about the worst day of the year in the U.S. stock market. Concerns are also being raised that the situation could ruin the vacations of tourists dreaming of exploring the culture, history, and warmth of Greece during the height of the summer season.

Here’s what travelers should keep in mind if they’re heading for Greece anytime soon.

Arrive with ample cash. Starting on Monday, banks in Greece were closed, and ATM withdrawals were being limited to €60 (around $67) for cards issued by Greek banks. Withdrawal restrictions don’t apply to foreign cards, but many ATMs have reportedly already been emptied and have no cash to dispense.

“Automated-teller machines are running dry and many businesses are no longer accepting credit cards,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

The bottom line is that the situation is fairly chaotic and very much in flux. Greece-bound tourists from Germany, the UK, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere have officially been given some variation of the warning to arrive with “sufficient euros in cash to cover the duration of your stay, emergencies, unforeseen circumstances, and any unexpected delays.” Ideally, bring cash in lots of smaller denominations, as it may be difficult for taxi drivers, restaurants, and other local businesses to provide change for big bills.

The advice of the U.S. Embassy in Greece is that Americans should have plenty of cash, and should certainly not rely on any single form of payment: “U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry more than one means of payment (cash, debit cards, credit cards), and make sure to have enough cash on hand to cover emergencies and any unexpected delays.”

Be extra vigilant. “The State Department recommends you maintain a high level of security awareness and avoid political rallies and demonstrations as instances of unrest can occur,” the U.S. Embassy states. “Exercise caution and common sense: Avoid the areas of demonstrations, and if you find yourself too close to a demonstration, move in the opposite direction and seek shelter.”

What’s more, pickpockets and thieves will surely be aware that tourists have been advised of the necessity of having plentiful cash on hand. So there will be extra reason for tourists to be targeted for theft. It goes without saying you shouldn’t stroll around casually with all of your cash in your purse or back pocket. Stash the bulk of it in the hotel safe, and divide walking-around cash among your party—ideally, safely kept in a money belt or neck wallet—perhaps with some emergency bills in the sole of your shoe. Don’t make it easy for pickpockets to rip you off.

Expect long lines and possible delays. There have already been huge lines at ATMs and supermarkets, with worried shoppers stocking up on essentials in the same way that Americans hoard milk and bread when a big snowstorm is in the forecast. There has also been plenty of speculation that strikes, demonstrations, and a squeeze on fuel could cause travel disruptions within Greece. So far, this has only amounted to speculation, and ferries, gas stations, and such have not been affected.

Tour operators are reporting (mostly) business as usual. “We were in touch with our hotel and our tour director earlier today, and both report that daily life is going on normally,” Tim Armstrong, a spokesman for the Tauck tour company, which had a group on a cruise just finishing up a three-night stay in Athens, said on Monday, according to the (Canada) Globe and Mail.

Likewise, Greek tourism officials maintain that the current events will have no impact on foreign visitors. “The tourists who are already here and those who are planning to come, will not be affected in any way by the events and will continue to enjoy their holiday in Greece with absolutely no problem,” said Elena Kountoura, Greece’s minister for tourism, according to the Independent. “It should be also noted that there is ample availability of both fuel and all products and services that ensure a smooth and fun stay for the visitors in every city, region and the islands.”

At least some of this seems like overstatement, considering that tourists and locals alike have already been affected by long lines. Credit and debit cards are still being accepted by most hotels and other businesses, but the fact that some are only accepting cash as payment is obviously another way that travelers are being affected.

Travel insurance probably won’t cover you if you cancel. If you’ve booked a vacation to Greece and purchased travel insurance for the trip, it may be time to look at the fine print. Most policies will reimburse a cancelled trip if there’s been a death in the immediate family, or if there’s been a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or large-scale civil unrest. But nothing that’s happening in Greece right now qualifies as a standard reimbursable situation.

“If you do cancel your trip it will be subject to the terms of the deal, and you stand to lose money,” one UK travel agent explained to the Guardian. Unless you’ve paid extra for a “cancel for any reason” upgrade to the insurance policy, in all likelihood your travel insurance would not cover you if you decide to cancel a trip to Greece right now.

Read next: What the Turmoil in Greece Means for Your Money

TIME Smartphones

Here’s How Many Americans Sleep With Their Smartphones

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Smartphone reliance is growing

Nearly three-quarters of Americans (71%) who own smartphones sleep with them — either by putting their phone on a nightstand, in their bed, or, for 3% of people, holding it in their hands.

A new mobile consumer report from Bank of America found that not only do Americans sleep with their smartphones, but the devices are also the first thing on people’s minds when they wake up: 35% of respondents said their first thought in the morning is about their smartphone; 10% said it was for their significant other.

The new report underscores an increasing trend of smartphone reliance among owners of the device, especially Millennials.

Throughout the day, more than half of Americans, about 57%, say they use their phone at least once an hour. In New York, that statistic jumps to 96%. In California, it’s 88%.

This constant interaction with smartphones means that Americans are increasingly using their phones for banking. More than half of the survey’s respondents said they use either an app, or a web browser as their primary form of banking. In California, 57% of residents are actively using a mobile banking app, mainly for banking notifications and alerts, checking balances, and mobile check deposits. By comparison, 53% of New Yorkers and Texans actively use banking apps.

Not crazy about smartphones? You might want to move to Denver. The city’s respondents are the most likely to survive without their smartphones: 49% said they would choose phone calls if they could only keep one feature of their phones (that’s 10% above the national average); and 27% of Denver respondents said they could refrain from using their phones indefinitely.

But even in Denver, the trend is inescapable: 63% of Denver residents sleep with their phones.

The Bank of America study surveyed 1,000 people who own smartphones and have banking relationships across the United States, plus 300 people in key markets such as New York, Denver, and California.

MONEY Banking

Think Twice Before Linking Your Bank Account to an App

Naver Corp.'s Line Mobile Apps As SoftBank Said to Seek Stake
Bloomberg/Getty Images

Consumer protections limit your liability in case of fraud -- but you need to act quickly.

Consumers routinely share their online banking passwords with third-party apps that help with everything from budgeting to tax preparation. Apparently banks would like this to stop. JPMorgan Chase posted this notice on its website in April:

“If you give out your chase.com User ID and Password, you are putting your money at risk,” says a page titled Guard Your ID and Password. “Some websites and software offer tools to help you with budgeting, managing accounts, investing, or even doing your taxes. But if you’re giving them your chase.com User ID and Password, you could be responsible for money you might lose as a result.”

That’s no small threat. In other words, if one of those third parties gets hacked and a criminal takes your money, you could lose it all.

The page goes on to advise consumers who’ve already shared their passwords to immediately change them — and of course, not give the new login information to the third party.

The warning is broad, but popular sites like Mint.com, which perform item-by-item analysis of consumers’ accounts, stand to lose the most if consumers heed the warning. So I asked Mint what it thought about Chase’s post.

Holly Perez, a Mint spokeswoman, said the warning was not really new. Several banks have language in their user agreements telling consumers not to share login information with third parties. She’s right. Here is language from Capital One’s agreement:

“Sharing your Capital One access credentials (with third parties) may represent a breach by you of applicable [agreement or terms and conditions),” it reads. “One of the reasons that Capital One prohibits this type of sharing is that we may not have any information regarding the use of or security environment around this sensitive information at any third party. If you choose to share account access information with a third party, Capital One is not liable for any resulting damages or losses.”

Chase’s new posting is probably the result of the recent increase in high-profile hacks, Perez speculated.

Trish Wexler, a senior vice president at Chase, agreed, and pointed out that similar language was present in the Chase user agreement long before the April post: “If you disclose your Card numbers, account numbers, PINs, User IDs, and/or Passwords to any person(s) or entity, you assume all risks and losses associated with such disclosure.”

Wexler said the post was not aimed at any particular third-party service, and she did not know of any incident which led to the post. It was published out of a desire to put that provision of the user agreement into plain language. She also said the post should not be interpreted as Chase telling consumers not to use any specific service, such as Mint.

“Our job is to make sure consumers can make their own choices based on all the available information,” she said. “Clearly customers want to be able to use services like this. They need to understand there are risks associated with giving out their user name and password, be it to a third-party service or a neighbor.”

What the Law Has to Say

Those risks aren’t completely clear, however. Federal banking regulations concerning unauthorized electronic funds transfers are very consumer-friendly. Consumer liability for losses is capped at $50 or $500, depending on how quickly a consumer reports fraud once it is discovered. Even negligence doesn’t increase the consumer’s liability, banking regulators have said. For example, even writing a PIN code on a debit card doesn’t increase the consumers’ liability if the card is stolen and used to make withdrawals.

“Negligence by the consumer cannot be used as the basis for imposing greater liability than is permissible,” the rules say. “Thus, consumer behavior that may constitute negligence under state law…does not affect the consumer’s liability for unauthorized transfers.”

The rules go on to say that banks cannot impose additional liability on consumers.

“The extent of the consumer’s liability is determined solely by the consumer’s promptness in reporting the loss or theft of an access device. Similarly, no agreement between the consumer and an institution may impose greater liability on the consumer for an unauthorized transfer than the limits provided in Regulation E.”

Chi Chi Wu, a banking regulation expert with the National Consumer Law Center, said consumers victimized by theft of credentials from a third-party site would enjoy the same protections as a consumer who divulged their passwords to a hacker.

“The same principles apply,” she said.

Of course writing a PIN code — or falling for a phishing email — is not a direct parallel to intentionally sharing login credentials with a third-party site. Until there is a high-profile test case, it’s hard to say what might happen. For any consumer hit by such a crime, there’s certain to be a big hassle, even if a bank ultimately refunds their money – out of a legal obligation, or free will.

The bottom line for consumers: You don’t want to be that test case. Be extremely judicious when handing out your banking credentials. If you do, be vigilant about what happens inside your bank account. Roughly speaking, you only have two days from the time a fraud appears on your regular statement to report it and be protected by the $50 liability limit. Otherwise, the limit is $500. And if you wait 60 days, the limit is … unlimited. So your real worry should be spotting and reporting fraud promptly.

More From Credit.com:

MONEY Workplace

Goldman Sachs Bans Interns from Pulling All-Nighters at the Office

Bernard Van Berg / EyeEm / Getty Images

The investment bank is putting an end to overnight work in an effort to improve interns' well-being.

Goldman Sachs has a message for its most junior employees: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here all night.

The investment bank is demanding its new summer interns be out of the office between midnight and 7am, Reuters reports. The new policy comes as financial industry, notorious for its grueling hours, tries to make banking a less stressful endeavor.

The 2013 death of a Bank of America intern in London, which may have been partially induced by fatigue, raised awareness of the finance world’s difficult working conditions and sparked reform efforts. Following the incident, Bank of America modified its policies to be more work-life friendly, and recommended analysts and associates “take a minimum of four weekend days off per month.”

Goldman, Credit Suisse, Citi Group, and other banks have made similar reforms, telling its junior bankers to take off Saturdays or weekends, and in Goldman’s case, forming a task force for quality of life issues.

Part of this reduction in hours is due to health concerns, but as the New York Times noted last year, it’s also driven by new competition from other industries, particularly technology firms, that offer the chance of riches and a personal life. This has lead more potential bankers to demand a (slightly) more livable schedule.

“My students, men and women, talk much more openly about an expectation of work-life balance,” Sonia Marciano, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, told the Times. “It’s a shift that seems pretty real and substantial.”

MONEY privacy

1 in 4 Americans Would Share Their DNA With Their Bank

test tube with DNA sequence
Zmeel Photography—Getty Images

We'd do just about anything to keep fraudsters at bay.

For most Americans, the username-password security feature isn’t good enough anymore. A quarter of consumers said they’d share their DNA with their bank, if it meant greater security for their personal and financial information, according to a survey from Telstra, a telecommunications and information services company in Australia.

About two-thirds of Americans surveyed also said they would prefer their smartphones use biometrics (i.e. a fingerprint) as the gatekeeper of secure information.

The Telstra data is based on a survey of 318 financial services executives in Europe, the U.S. and the Asia Pacific region and 4,272 consumers in seven countries — it’s unclear what share of the responses came from the U.S. or what the margin of error is.

According to the data, more than half of U.S. consumers said security of their finances and personal information is their top priority when choosing a financial institution, over things like interest rates and ease of accessing funds, which are traditionally important considerations when choosing a bank. Given the increasing popularity of mobile banking — a recent report from Javelin Strategy & Research said only 17% of consumers prefer to visit a bank branch to access their checking accounts — it makes sense that consumers would want to know there’s more than a username and password between whoever is holding their phones and their financial information.

Biometric security includes things like voice, facial, fingerprint and iris recognition, ideally ensuring only you can access your bank account on the mobile device. Many of the newest smartphones are capable of biometric security, making the features seem within reach for financial institutions.

Even if your banking app isn’t yet asking for your fingerprints, there are a lot of things you can do to increase your security. First, it’s a good idea to password-protect your phone, because your personal information isn’t limited to your banking app, and you don’t want anyone accessing that without your permission. On top of that, it’s crucial you look at information security from multiple angles: Monitor your bank accounts and credit information for signs of unauthorized activity, because despite your best efforts, it’s likely a fraudster will access and abuse your personal information at some point. As soon as you identify suspicious activity — for example, you’re checking your credit score and it dropped dozens of points for no reason you can think of — immediately investigate the problem. The sooner you alert your financial service providers and the credit reporting agency to unauthorized activity, the faster you’re likely to recover from any damage the fraudster caused. You can monitor your credit scores for free on Credit.com every month.

More From Credit.com:

MONEY

Mobile Banking Addiction Is Now a Thing

166645094
PhotoInc—Getty Images

In one poll, nearly half of people who bank by phone admitted to checking their balances in the bathroom.

It’s not just teenagers who’d rather look at their phones than talk to people. Bank account holders feel that way too, apparently. New research from Javelin Strategy & Research suggests that consumers now prefer mobile banking to in-person branch banking.

Javelin’s survey found that 23% of consumers choose to use their smartphones as a primary access point for their checking accounts, compared to 17% who prefer to visit the branch.

Online banking still trumps all, with 39% telling Javelin they primarily access their checking accounts that way.

But making mobile phones the primary access point for one-quarter of consumers, rather than a mere add-on, represents a significant change in consumer behavior.

The rise of mobile banking is well chronicled, with the ability to remotely deposit checks a ragingly popular feature. The Federal Reserve said earlier this year that 51% of mobile bankers used “remote deposit capture” last year, up from 38% in 2013. In all, cellphone owners who’ve used mobile banking jumped from 22% in 2011 to 39% last year, the Fed says.

Perhaps that’s because consumers really do like the idea that they can bank anywhere. And I mean anywhere. Feedzai, a security firm, said its recent poll found nearly half of mobile bankers are “doing it in the bedroom.” It also found 30% banked in the bathroom, and 13% even confessed to banking while driving (don’t do that). Another 18% banked while standing in line – presumably not at the bank.

And those who do bank online are “addicted,” argues Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, which found in its survey that 55% of those who access mobile banking do so at least two to three times a week.

Javelin says heavy online bankers are more likely to be younger, female and have children in the household — in other words, they are busy — than online-first or branch-first customers.

In case you’re curious, online banking first became the most preferred banking method in 2009, according to the American Bankers Association. Previously, visiting a branch was the most popular method, followed by visiting ATMs.

Mobile banking is far from perfect, Javelin warns, which is one reason online banking remains so popular.

“Currently, mobile bankers are not able finish transactions on mobile devices and are purposefully shifted to online or branch channels for completion, causing frustration,” said Mary Monahan, Executive Vice President and Research Director at Javelin Strategy & Research. “Financial institutions should aim to create a unified view of the customer and offer a more seamless, easily navigated banking experience, to appeal to the broader user community.”

More from Credit.com:

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com