Bank regulators got a sense Thursday of how their lives will be slightly different now that Elizabeth Warren sits on a Senate committee overseeing their agencies.
At her first Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, Warren questioned top regulators from the alphabet soup that is the nation’s financial regulatory structure: the FDIC, SEC, OCC, CFPB, CFTC, Fed and Treasury.
The Democratic senator from Massachusetts had a straightforward question for them: When was the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial? It was a harder question than it seemed.
“We do not have to bring people to trial,” Thomas Curry, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, assured Warren, declaring that his agency had secured a large number of “consent orders,” or settlements.
“I appreciate that you say you don’t have to bring them to trial. My question is, when did you bring them to trial?” she responded.
“We have not had to do it as a practical matter to achieve our supervisory goals,” Curry offered.
Warren turned to Elisse Walter, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who said that the agency weighs how much it can extract from a bank without taking it to court against the cost of going to trial.
“I appreciate that. That’s what everybody does,” said Warren, a former Harvard law professor. “Can you identify the last time when you took the Wall Street banks to trial?”
“I will have to get back to you with specific information,” Walter said as the audience tittered.
“There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that ‘too big to fail’ has become ‘too big for trial,'” Warren said.
There is no doubt that we have had a major world wide financial collapse drastically affecting many innocent people in terms of livelihood and life long savings. It is fair to say that if the regulators had done their job, the country would have not had the hard landing that was experienced in 2008. The 2010 Financial Reform Bill kicked the can down to the Regulators for implementation and the bankers still have influence. This article takes a look at who the regulators were and how they did or did not do their job. The Obama people in the regulator domain are identified along with examples of Bush regulator failures. Hopefully this will give insight into what is being done to preclude another crisis
The financial industry has a gaggle of regulators, each with its politically protected turf.
From Wikopedia: Financial regulation is a form of regulation or supervision, which subjects financial institutions to certain requirements, restrictions and guidelines, aiming to maintain the integrity of the financial system.
Regulation is an unnecessarily a complex subject. It is important to understand that in some cases financial entities can choose their regulator. Some regulators were much more lenient and in many cases banks switched to them, hence the term Regulatory Arbitrage. The following are the major Federal regulators: FED, SEC, OCC, OTS, FDIC, CFTC and FINRA described below. Except for the FED, most of these organizations have direct or indirect ties to the Treasury organization.
FED – Federal Reserve System
From Wikopedia: Its duties today, according to official Federal Reserve documentation, are to conduct the nation’s monetary policy, supervise and regulate banking institutions, maintain the stability of the financial system and provide financial services to depository institutions, the U.S. government, and foreign official institutions.Current chairman is Ben Bernanke, the former chairman was Alan Greenspan. Much more on Mr Greenspan later.
SEC – Securities and Exchange Commission
From Wikopedia: It holds primary responsibility for enforcing the federal securities laws and regulating the securities industry, the nation’s stock and options exchanges, and other electronic securities markets in the United States. Mary Schapiro is the current Chair. Predesessors were; Christopher Cox – 2005-2009, William H. Donaldson – 2003-2005, Harvey Pitt – 2001-03
OCC – Office of Comptroller of the Currency
From Wikopedia: US federal agency established by the National Currency Act of 1863 and serves to charter, regulate, and supervise all national banks and the federal branches and agencies of foreign banks in the United States. Current Acting Chairman is John Walsh. Previous Chairman were John C. Dugan – (2005 – 2010) John D. Hawke, Jr. – (1998–2004)
OTS – Office of Thrift Supervision ( recently folded into OCC)
From Wikopedia: United States federal agency under the Department of the Treasury. It was created in 1989 as a renamed version of another federal agency (that was faulted for its role in the Savings and loan crisis). Like other US federal bank regulators, it is paid by the banks it regulates. The OTS was initially seen as an aggressive regulator, but was later lax. Declining revenues and staff led the OTS to market itself to companies as a lax regulator in order to get revenue.
FDIC – Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
From Wikopedia: United States government corporation created by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. It provides deposit insurance, which guarantees the safety of deposits in member banks, currently up to $250,000 per depositor per bank. The FDIC insures deposits at 7,895 institutions. The FDIC also examines and supervises certain financial institutions for safety and soundness, performs certain consumer-protection functions, and manages banks in receiverships (failed banks).
Sheila Bair is the current chairman of the FDIC and is viewed as a serious regulator with the right incentives for all concerned.
CFTC – Commodity Futures Trading Commission
From Wikopedia: The stated mission of the CFTC is to protect market users and the public from fraud, manipulation, and abusive practices related to the sale of commodity and financial futures and options, and to foster open, competitive, and financially sound futures and option markets.
CFTC is considered to be the primary regulator for Credit Default Swaps in the Dodd Frank regulation scheme.
FINRA – Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
From Wikopedia: In the United States, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc., or FINRA, is a private corporation that acts as a self-regulatory organization (SRO). FINRA is the successor to the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. (NASD). Though sometimes mistaken for a government agency, it is a non-governmental organization that performs financial regulation of member brokerage firms and exchange markets.
Previously run by Mary Shapiro, FINRA has been critisized as being a ineffective regulator. Most notable was their (and SEC) allowing Bernie Madow to continue for 10 years to operate despite being warned by a whistle blower. When testifying before congress, the whistle blower (Harry Markopolos) said SEC was incompetent, FINRA was corrupt.
It must be said that Financial Regulation in the United States is done by committee of political bureauocrats. It is important to be aware of the fact that many of them are funded by fee’s assessed to the agencies they regulate. So opportunity for Regulatory Capture and Regulatory Arbitrage is prevalent in these agencies. The clear example is Office of Thrift Supervision bowing to their clients. The opposite example is that of Sheila Bair who tries to do the right thing for her clients despite critisizm.