Press Releases

Frank Dear Colleague:"The Days of Light-Touch Regulation are Over"

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Washington, DC, April 1, 2009 | comments

Dear Colleague sent by Chairman Frank:

 March 31, 2009

 

 "The Days of Light-Touch Regulation are Over"

 Dear Colleague:

At the markup of the legislation we are considering on the floor tomorrow, regarding the subject of restraints on compensation from recipients of a capital infusion under the TARP program, some arguments against it were that it would put American financial institutions at a competitive disadvantage internationally.  In fact, compensation for executives in America have been far greater than those for comparable institutions elsewhere in most cases, and even more important, there is now a movement underway among our most serious competitors for financial business to tighten the compensation standards that apply in their countries – which are, as I said, already generally lower than those in the U.S.

The article printed below from last Friday’s New York Times quotes Adair Turner, the head of the Financial Services Authority in England, on the importance of an internationally coordinated effort to restrain compensation packages that give perverse incentives to the leaders of financial institutions, and thus contribute to excessive risk.

It is important, of course, to note that the Financial Services Authority had long been held out as the exemplar of the “light touch” approach to financial regulation, and when I was about to become Chair of this Committee in late 2006, I was told by many opponents of government regulation that we were over-regulating and should emulate this light touch.  Interestingly, in this article, Mr. Turner specifically notes “The days of light touch regulation are over.”  This builds on an article in the New York Times from Wednesday, March 18th, in which he made clear his view that this “light touch” approach had been one of the factors leading to the financial meltdown.

As the Times article concludes, based on the efforts of Mr. Turner and a survey of activity in other countries which are potential competitors of the U.S., “At any rate, the days of big bonuses are most likely over.”

 

/s/
                BARNEY FRANK
        Chairman
 

 

 

March 20, 2009

Regulators Worldwide Scrutinize Bankers’ Pay

By LANDON THOMAS Jr.

LONDON — Some of the world’s most powerful central bankers and financial regulators are proposing that the Securities and Exchange Commission and its counterparts in other countries extend their powers to include the regulation of executive compensation.

Adair Turner, Britain’s top financial regulator, laid out the proposed new powers that he and some of his international colleagues hope to wield to ensure that bankers’ bonuses do not rely solely on the pursuit of profit.

Not only will regulators insert themselves into the secretive realm of bank compensation practices, Mr. Turner said, they will also demand that banks set aside more capital if their pay packages are too high.

“This has never been done before,” said Mr. Turner, who heads the Financial Services Authority in Britain. “But the days of light-touch regulation are over.”

Mr. Turner made the remarks in an interview before a speech at the Cass Business School in London this week. 

The main theme of his speech was a call for banks to hold more capital to guard against future losses.

But buried in the fine print was the outline of a new global approach to regulating bankers’ compensation that represents a direct challenge to practices at the heart of the British-American financial model. If put in practice, the policies could fundamentally change the way Wall Street and London’s financial district, the City, operate.

Amid the uproar over bonuses at the American International Group and Merrill Lynch, the question of how bankers are compensated has never been more hotly debated. A similar debate has erupted in Britain over the pay practices at a number of major banks, not just those that have received government bailouts but others, like Barclays, that have not.

Although Mr. Turner’s remarks focused on Britain, in recent weeks a small group of senior regulators, central bankers and government officials working under the framework of the Financial Stability Forum have been preparing a proposal that they hope will be endorsed by political leaders at the coming Group of 20 summit

meeting in early April.

Prepared by a panel headed by Philipp Hildebrand, the vice chairman of the Swiss National Bank, the report will effectively back the financial authority’s approach to pay. It proposes that national regulators ensure that compensation awards at financial institutions are based not just on profitability but also on the extent to which a trader or banker did not take excessive risk in order to generate high returns.

Deferred payout plans and clawback measures would also be proposed.

“The system is dysfunctional now, so you need something to break the pattern,” said Gary Lutin, an investment banker and public critic of executive compensation levels.

Still, he said, it is one thing for regulators to promise to crack down on pay and quite another for them to actually do it.

Traditionally, the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States and the Financial Services Authority in Britain — both of which contributed to the report — have supervised areas like capital adequacy and broad compliance with securities law.

They have limited their involvement in pay issues to trying to restrain bonuses at financial institutions receiving public funds, and even there they have generally moved cautiously and on an ad hoc basis.

But there are signs that governments are going to play a much more active role even after the good times return.

At the government-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, this new austerity is exemplified by a bonus regime that pays top-earning executives only their base salary — traditionally about 10 to 20 percent of total compensation — in cash. The rest of their yearly awards will come in subordinated debt, as opposed to deferred stock, to be parceled out over a three-year period and subject to a clawback provision if the profits on which the bonuses are based prove to be illusory.

Last year, according to people briefed on the bank’s bonus policy, all the top earners outside of executive directors received their entire 2007 bonuses in cash in the early months of 2008.

The bonuses totaled £2.5 billion, or about $3.65 billion, out of a companywide profit of £7.7 billion, about $11.23 billion — during a year when flawed trades, souring loans and a misconceived merger brought the bank to the brink of failure.

Officials at the British Treasury and the financial authority are keeping a close watch on how the new approach at Royal Bank of Scotland works out, to see if it has any broader applicability.

At any rate, the days of big bonuses are most likely over. As Mr. Turner put it speaking at Cass Business School, criticizing the “illusory bank profits” of the last decade, “It is possible for a system to extract rent beyond its actual contribution.”
 

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