Maxine Waters warns bankers she will take 'a hard look' to spot misconduct

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersBipartisan bill will help level the playing field for small businesses Republicans hammer HUD chief over sluggish rental aid Key GOP lawmaker backs Powell for another term as Fed chief MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday warned a conference of U.S. bankers that she will be keeping a close watch on misconduct in the banking sector and expects the industry to steer record profits toward struggling communities.

Waters said in a speech that the panel will crack down on banks who abuse their customers as the sector benefits from a strong economy.

“As I’ve said before, bad actors that repeatedly harm consumers must face consequences,” Waters said at the annual Washington conference for the American Bankers Association, the largest trade group for U.S. banks.

“Are the practices of your institutions causing harm? The committee will be taking a hard look.”

Waters’s warning comes days after former Wells Fargo chief executive and President Timothy Sloan stepped down after facing a bipartisan excoriation during a Financial Services panel hearing two weeks prior.

Wells Fargo has been under intense regulatory scrutiny. While analysts pinned Sloan’s departure on the bank’s failure to satisfy regulators, Waters warned that she’d push for legislation to break up big banks with lengthy records of consumer abuse.

“Banks who follow the law and treat customers well should not be put at a disadvantage to recidivist banks,” Waters said.

Waters also previewed an upcoming Financial Services hearing with the chief executives of the six largest U.S. banks. She emphasized expanding access to underserved consumers and guiding record profits toward areas that have failed to reap benefits from the decade-long recovery.

“I'm committed to making sure that everything the committee does, we’re putting consumers, investors and small businesses first,” Waters said. “As banks, there are your customers. So I ask you to consider, what are you doing for your customers?”

As chairwoman of the Financial Services panel, Waters has fiercely criticized the conduct of major banks and their support for loosening post-crisis financial regulations. But Waters has also received praise for pushing through industry priorities with bipartisan backing, such as a bill to give banks legal cover to serve state-compliant cannabis companies.

Waters told the group of bankers that while they’d have differences of opinion, she’ll always have an open door for the industry and its advocates.

“I want you to know that I’m always willing to hear your perspective and any concerns,”  Waters said. “If you happen to be passing my office, come on in and ask if I’m around.”