It’s a familiar story. The finance lobby wants to weaken a rule. They find the weakest link in the regulatory chain and ride that link to achieve their ends. And the weakest link is usually the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, colloquially known as the Office of Bank Advocacy.
That’s what’s happening on the Volcker rule.
Though several federal agencies agreed last week to propose the initial version of the Volcker Rule, they are divided over some of its crucial details. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, for example, has pushed for tough language that would require bank executives to vouch for their compliance with the Volcker Rule — a measure that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has been fiercely resisting, say people close to the regulators.
In recent weeks, some regulators even quarreled over which agency would vote first on the rule, according to one of the people close to the regulators. And while four regulators ultimately did vote, a fifth agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, was conspicuous by its silence. . . .
The rule would limit most proprietary trading, where a bank places bets for itself rather than for clients, a major money maker for the industry. Wall Street has warned that the rule will eat into profits just as banks are trying to regain their footing.
The CFTC’s objection was over the lack of a cost-benefit analysis in the proposal, which could open it up to legal challenge. They also said they didn’t have the staff to even analyze the rule. And this is one of the regulators!
This is a classic divide-and-conquer strategy. What FDIC wants to do here is pretty solid. I have some concerns with the Volcker rule’s implementation, but if bank executives are on the hook for compliance, they would have a strong incentive not to fudge the law. The OCC did the regulatory equivalent of a kamikaze mission over this provision, saying that it would be a dealbreaker. The end result was that the rule was turned into a “question” in the initial draft. In other words, the public is invited to offer their input on that provision, and the final decision will be put off until later. This CEO compliance rule was relegated to a question, along with 400 other pieces of the draft. Another rule turned into a question would make banks turn over trading data to an independent entity to scan for compliance. OCC didn’t want that either, along with the Federal Reserve. I guess they prefer self-reporting.
If the end result is delay of implementation, that serves the ends of the finance lobby just fine. They can ride OCC to keep their proprietary trading going as long as possible, and to keep the noses of regulators out of their books. It’s not good news that the only member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors to vote against the draft resolution on the Volcker rule was Sarah Bloom Raskin, the consumer protection specialist.
Meanwhile, this is all a bounty for those trying to influence the rule. One high-powered law firm, Davis Polk, has an entire website devoted to the Volcker rule. It’s happy hunting season for the lobbyists.