Colonel Ken

September 28, 2008 5:53 a.m.

Colonel Ken Allard is no whiner. He’s military tough, a firm believer in personal responsibility. But he has been so badly treated by Bank of America that he decided to go public, here and here. Along the way, he picked up stories from other folks about their treatment at the hands of B of A.

I like the colonel. He has the sort of “I’ll fix it myself” view of injustice that makes me root for him. But as I read his story, I wondered: how many people will be cheated, scammed, tricked, ignored and generally infuriated before someone says it is time to put some basic supervision in place?

I have been promoting a Financial Product Safety Commission, an outfit that would help level the playing field between big financial institutions and customers like Colonel Ken. No manufacturer can sell you defective toaster, then turn their back on you when the toaster catches fire. But when B of A blew off Colonel Ken, even when he could document that he was being billed for charges he did not make, there was no one to appeal to, no one to help, no one to look at the documents and tell B of A to cut it out. Sure, the colonel might have hired a lawyer, he might have brought some kind of injunctive action in state court, and he might have prevailed in court — but that’s a lot of time and money that the Colonel has to spend to clear up something when he didn’t do anything wrong.

Perhaps some companies count on the fact that it is really hard for a customer to do much of anything. I think it is time for a federal agency that doesn’t set prices, but that makes sure that all terms are clear and that companies play by the rules in resolving disputes. Those are small differences that could make a big difference in the lives of millions of people. I admire Colonel Ken for taking on a huge financial institution, but I think we need rules to make it a little easier for all customers to be treated fairly…

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