'Arrogance and Entitlement': Ex-Citigroup Staffer Dishes on Working for the Banking Giant

Over the weekend, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led the charge against a bill to finance the government that also carried with it all sorts of odious special interest favors, including a provision to undo some Wall Street regulations and guarantee future taxpayer bailouts, and a provision to undo some campaign finance restrictions.

Although Warren was unsuccessful, she did manage to rally enough members of Congress to make the bill's passage very close in the House, and she convinced a number of senators to join her as well. During the height of the fight, Warren called out the Wall Street megabank Citigroup by name, noting that it more or less wrote the deregulation provision in the bill. In a stunning speech before the Senate, she directly addressed Citigroup: “I agree with you that Dodd-Frank isn't perfect. It should've broken you into pieces!”

Warren's crusade against Citigroup energized Americans, who have watched as both parties have cowered before the bank's interests. One of those Americans comes from an unlikely corner: a former senior staffer at Citigroup.

Cheryl Dykstra today works in insurance in Albany, New York. But in the 1980s, she spent more than half a decade working for Citigroup (at that time Citibank), as the bank was growing in size (and political power). Although Dykstra is under a non-disclosure agreement as to the exact content of her work, she agreed to be interviewed by AlterNet about her experience as a systems manager in bankcards and the bank's youngest and first female director of its most profitable division at the time, the U.S. Card Products Group.

Dykstra describes Citibank executives' 1980s culture as one of “arrogance and entitlement,” noting that they were the ones who coined the term “Joe and Betty Six Pack” to refer to banking clients. She wrote via email:

“...to say they spent money like drunken sailors, would be to greatly disrespect the sloppiest drunk who ever graced a vessel. From lavish off-sites at the Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to more modest junkettes to resorts in Lake George, complete with five-star gourmet meals, casino nights (I kid you not... they had to keep the gamblers well-oiled), toga-like dance parties... to renting out the entire Copacabana Nightclub in Manhattan for holiday parties to handing out gratis high-grain leather bags (the equivalent of red carpet swag bags), to the ordering of lunch for entire staffs daily from the top eateries in Manhattan, the primary directive was always SPEND, SPEND, SPEND... other people's money.”

While Citibank was breaking new grounds in terms of lavish executive compensation, the money had to come from somewhere. Dystrka explained how the company got Americans hooked on credit card debt:

“Citi was also the first on the block to realize that the computerized customer credit card data that everyone was sitting on was a virtual goldmine... able to net much more than just the exorbitant interest owed. Just imagine creating metrics that would enable marketers to better reach their target markets by using actual transaction histories? What might that be worth? Remember, back then (much like today), privacy laws, if any, were a bad joke meant to be broken." 

But amidst its own fortunes, Citi was predicting the demise of the American middle class. “Interestingly enough, during the late eighties is also when Citi advised us that children being born then and later would never be able to achieve the material 'success' of their parents,” says Dykstra. “America's glory days were officially over. I was young enough at the time to foolishly think that they were simply engaging in over-the-top hyperbole triggered by an unprecedented default (at the time) on credit card payments. I now know better.”

Dykstra explains that the one time she was ever reprimanded was for refusing to spend out her own expense account. Eventually, the excesses of the bank drove her to leave. “It was the birth of my child which ignited my smoldering conscience and caused me to run for the fire exits,” she says.

Today she works for a small non-profit insurer. “I live like most Americans, paycheck-to-paycheck, the comfort that a well-exercised and maintained conscience affords is the greatest reward of all.”

That conscience is why Dykstra was moved to speak out when she saw Warren fight Citigroup's influence on Capitol Hill. “I applaud her obvious brilliance and moxie,” she says. “May she go straight to the head of the class. She'd make a fine figurehead. Because figurehead is all the presidency is now guaranteed to be after having allowed Citi to openly write a law that has the potential to empty everyone's accounts with impunity and financially destroy us all.”

As Warren and other bank reformers continue to organize against Wall Street's vice grip on Washington, it's likely more like Dykstra will come forward and denounce the pervasive influence of the industry they once worked for.

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