Rein in Wall Street, Say Small Business Owners

John Arensmeyer

The latest jobs data shows small businesses are off to a running start in the job creation department this year, proving entrepreneurs are doing more than ever to lift post-recession employment. But it’s also true that small firms aren’t immune to the lingering effects of our disrupted financial market. Despite the mantra that slackening Wall Street’s reins will promote economic growth, recent national opinion polling reveals the majority of entrepreneurs believe the opposite: Wall Street should be held accountable for the financial crisis with rules that are stronger, not weaker.

A whopping 80 percent of small business owners agree with this, according to scientific polling conducted in January for Small Business Majority. Considering the oft-politicized nature of this topic, it’s noteworthy that not only was this a majority Republican sample, but more than seven in 10 Republican owners believe we need tougher rules for holding Wall Street accountable. Entrepreneurs aren’t politically minded, they’re business minded. That’s why this isn’t a party line issue for them. It’s a bottom-line issue, plain and simple, meaning it impacts their capacity to grow and hire.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that nearly six in 10 entrepreneurs agree that for far too long, Wall Street banks and financial companies wrote their own rules while nobody was looking out for small businesses and consumers. They believe we need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — a federal organization that helps prevent financial companies from using abusive lending practices that can affect small businesses. Eighty-four percent of owners generally support the CFPB, underscoring the consensus that our nation is long overdue for a fairer financial system.

Small business owner Shaundell Newsome couldn’t agree more. Shaundell, the president and CEO of Sumnu Marketing in Las Vegas feels more work needs to be done to give small businesses the ability to push back against unfair financial practices. “A lot of small businesses don’t have the power or the resources to fight against the big banks and financial companies,” he said. “These companies’ practices haven’t really changed since the recession, which is why it’s incredibly important the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to keep them accountable. However, another factor is that many of the protections individuals are seeing should be afforded to small businesses, as well.”

Herein lies another issue the poll shed light on: the strong link between small business finance and personal credit. Fifty-eight percent of respondents have used a personal credit card to finance their business, and 53 percent have personally guaranteed a loan for their business. This helps explain why small businesses strongly support provisions of the 2009 Credit CARD Act — although ‘strongly’ might be an understatement.

Every single provision we polled on from this law, which established a series of consumer protections from banks and other financial institutions, was supported by nearly 100 percent of respondents. For example, 98 percent support requiring credit card companies to provide clear descriptions of what factors trigger a higher interest amount. But this requirement and others only apply to personal credit cards. Echoing Shaundell Newsome, a sweeping majority of 19 in 20 small employers want consumer protections expanded to protect businesses, too.

If businesses had stronger protection from predatory financial practices, imagine how much more they could do to grow the economy. New employment data indicates firms with fewer than 50 employees created six in 10 new jobs in January. That’s a big step in the right direction. However, positive steps forward don’t mean it’s time to ease back on Wall Street financial institutions, as small business owners have made clear. If we want them to continue playing a significant role in rebuilding our economy, entrepreneurs need protection from the practices that caused our fiscal crisis.

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