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Poll: Small businesses want transparency

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   Feb. 3, 2013 at 5:01 AM   |   Comments

Small businesses overwhelmingly support tougher regulations for Wall Street and financial companies, saying they must be held accountable and their business dealings must be transparent, a survey by Small Business Majority indicated.

Eighty percent of small business owners said they believe Wall Street and financial companies should be subject to rules and enforcement that hold them accountable for the practices that helped push the country into recession several years ago, results of the survey released last week indicated.

About two-thirds of the companies said they thought the level of government oversight for financial companies was either about right or should be increased.

Additionally, 84 percent said they back the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog agency created by the 2010 Dodd Frank Act to protect people from abusive lending practices.

"We're starting to dig out of recession," said John Arensmeyer, founder and chief executive officer of the Small Business Majority. "Small businesses, along with our economy, are getting stronger, but they're certainly not immune to the lingering effects of our financial meltdown."

Results of the survey indicate "now is not the time" to ease back on Wall Street oversight, Arensmeyer said last week during a conference call on the survey.

All small businesses ask of their financial institutions are transaction transparency, clear rules, fair play and that the institutions play by the rules, he said.

In an area that can quickly become political, Arensmeyer noted the majority of the 500 small business owners who participated in the Internet survey -- 52 percent -- identified themselves as Republican. He said 24 percent said they were Democrats and the rest identified themselves as independents.

The poll indicated nearly six in 10 entrepreneurs agree Wall Street banks and financial companies "wrote their own rules," leaving small businesses and consumers in vulnerable positions without any real recourse.

The poll also found a strong link between small business finance and personal credit, Arensmeyer said. Fifty-eight percent of small business owners said they've used a personal credit cards to finance their businesses and 53 percent have personally guaranteed loans for their businesses.

"More work needs to be done to give small businesses the ability to push back against these unfair practices. A lot of small businesses don't have the power or the resources to fight against the big banks and financial companies," said Shaundell Newsome, president and chief executive officer of Sumnu Marketing in Las Vegas.

He said he believes laws should be stricter so financial institutions "don't have a free-for-all." They need to be required to be more transparent about why their lending practices or rules change, he said.

"I personally guaranteed my loan, so my personal credit and business credit took a hit" during the financial downturn, Newsome said.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he said, will help keep financial institutions accountable.

"Banks got us into this mess," he said, "and they sometimes were rewarded for their poor practices [while] we took a hit."

Zachary Davis, owner of Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz, Calif., said he learned that "credit card companies will do anything" to maximize fees to make money as he was trying to launch his business.

He said he relied on his personal credit card because his business was a startup "with no credit history."

He said his card issuer would register deposits after posting charges and collecting fees if the account was overdrawn because the deposits were credited after the debits were made. Also, he said he wasn't notified if he exceeded the card's limit but still was assessed fees for that.

Davis said he believes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is important because having a partner to hold financial institutions accountable "is critical."

Davis and Newsome weren't alone in their concerns about how financial institutions process credits and debits. The survey said 37 percent of entrepreneurs reported having firsthand experience with a bank or other financial institution processing their bank transactions in a way that maximizes fees.

Results said nine in 10 support regulations to explicitly bar banks from doing this, and instead require them to process transactions neutrally.

Results were based on an Internet survey of 500 small business owners across the country conducted by Lake Research Partners for Small Business Majority Jan. 9-16. The margin of error of is 4.4 percentage points.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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