Protests at Household's Shareholder Meeting
The American Banker 5/9/01
By Robert Julavits
In what is becoming an annual ritual for many subprime lenders, two activist groups converged Tuesday at Household International Inc.'s shareholder meeting to publicize what they say constitutes predatory lending.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now began a two-day nationwide protest at the Tampa meeting, while United for a Fair Economy, a coalition of business leaders and investors that promotes economic equality, offered a shareholder resolution.
In the Acorn effort, roughly 40 protesters gathered outside while one member managed to gain access to the meeting and posed a question about the company's lending practices.
Julie Goodridge, a member of Responsible Wealth, a subgroup of United, presented a resolution to shareholders that would tie compensation to the officers' ability to meet stated lending goals. Ms. Goodridge is president of Northstar Asset Management, whose clients own Household shares.
Lisa Donner, coordinator of Acorn's predatory lending initiatives, said in an interview after the protest, "We wanted to send a message to the shareholders about our concerns about Household's loans, and that we're not going away.
"We also wanted to talk to them and make sure they know the loans they're making are doing terrible things in our neighborhoods."
Ms. Donner said her group has been looking at Household for just close to a year, and decided to take action after hearing many stories about the company's lending. "It's not just one rogue loan officer doing something funny when you hear the same stories again and again," she said.
Members of Responsible Wealth introduced a similar resolution at Citigroup's shareholder meeting earlier this year. The resolution was defeated. Though Household shareholders voted on the resolution Tuesday, the company did not disclose the result.
Household and Citigroup have been a focus around the country on predatory lending, Molly Lanzarotta, an official at United for a Fair Economy, said in an interview. She said Household has made many statements that it is not involved in predatory lending.
Yet in North Carolina, which passed one of the first anti-predatory lending laws, Ms. Lanzarotta said Household and Citigroup led the list of predatory lending complaints to the state's banking commission. "What they are saying is not correlating to how it's playing out," she said. "We're asking them to back up what they are saying."
Acorn targeted Household branches in 10 cities for protests. The group hit two cities Tuesday, and has scheduled the other eight protests for today.
A spokesman for Household argued that the shareholder resolution is unnecessary. "We think we are doing a lot of things to respond to allegations on that issue, and we don't think that the those actions are needed," he said.
In response to the Acorn protest and the member's appearance in the meeting, the spokesman said that Household agrees with the importance in investing in the communities in which it does business, and that it will be doing more investing in the future, especially to improve consumer education and awareness. He said Household does not engage in predatory lending.
Copyright 2001, The American Banker.
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