Jamie Dimon keeps a tally of the ways Wall Street already has been affected by the largest overhaul of financial regulation in generations.
At a June 7 conference in Atlanta, the JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) chief executive officer reeled off items from his list during a session with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke: Banks are putting aside more capital. Off-balance-sheet business has been “virtually obliterated.” Accounting is more transparent.
“Regulators, I can assure you, are much tougher in every way and shape possible,” Dimon told the central banker, suggesting that the rules are going too far.
Some things may not seem to have changed much since the credit crisis nearly toppled the financial system in 2008. A handful of large banks dominate Wall Street, where workers with higher salaries than most professionals collected cash bonuses averaging $128,000 last year. Executives have fared even better; Dimon’s compensation rose 51 percent to $23 million.
Moreover, a year after the Dodd-Frank Act became law, hundreds of rules mandated by statute have yet to be written. Financial firms, consumer groups and regulators are still engaged in hand-to-hand combat over many of them. Deadlines for implementing the law are being pushed back as agencies find themselves unable to cope with the sheer size and complexity of the task under the timetable set by Congress.
House Republicans, swept into power in the November elections, are pushing bills to revise, delay or repeal parts of the law including the consumer bureau, derivatives rules and the registration requirements for private equity advisors.
Still, Dimon’s complaint illustrates that Dodd-Frank is rippling through the U.S. financial system. However slowly, firms have begun changing the way they do business in response to the rules and in anticipation of what lies ahead.
“Many people think that not much has happened because so much of it is delayed and behind schedule,” said Roy C. Smith, a finance professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “That is not the case. In fact, the statute has pretty powerful provisions in it with respect to regulating systemic risks.”
In Smith’s view, the power of Dodd-Frank can already be seen in moves like Citigroup Inc. (C)’s decision to sell off lines of business such as its consumer-lending unit. New regulations governing different lines of business, in addition to the substantial increase in the amount of liquid capital banks must hold, are making it too expensive for financial institutions to stay at their current size, Smith said.
‘Cost of Regulation’
While some of this streamlining would have happened as a response to the crisis without Dodd-Frank, the law is ensuring that it continues, he said.
The law’s authors “are creating a cost of regulation that causes you to break yourself up,” Smith said. “They’ve done it in a back-door way, and they’ve done it with a slow-burning fuse, but there’s no doubt that if Dodd-Frank had not been passed, the odds are much greater that this would have gone back” to the old ways.
Dodd-Frank is simultaneously leading to the end of some Wall Street practices and creating new opportunities.
The looming threat of provisions such as the Volcker Rule, which will largely bar banks from trading solely for their own profit, has already spurred a stream of departures from the proprietary trading desks of firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Deutsche Bank AG.
At the same time, the law requires swaps to be traded on a platform that allow multiple bids and offers to be made by multiple participants. Some firms are preparing so-called swap execution facilities to take advantage of the new market.
Eris Exchange, an electronic futures exchange, opened for business in Chicago a year ago in direct response to Dodd-Frank, and has since traded more than $33 billion in notional value of interest-rate swap futures contracts, the company’s chief executive officer, Neal Brady, told lawmakers at a Senate hearing last month.
“There certainly have been shifts in approach and strategy for a lot of people,” said Kevin McPartland, a senior analyst in New York with Tabb Group, a financial markets research and advisory company.
Even as regulators rush to finish rules governing swaps, there has been a “slight uptick” in electronic trading to make sure the system works when regulations are ready, he said.
Besides changing how financial institutions make their money, the act has begun to influence some of their practices, said Jo Ann Barefoot, a Washington-based bank consultant.
The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with expanded powers to enforce existing laws banning ”unfair, abusive and deceptive practices,” is set to begin operations July 21, exactly a year after President Barack Obama signed Dodd-Frank into law. Already, some banks are hiring internal consumer advocates to help ensure that their policies on overdraft fees and other issues will not be flagged as abusive, she said.
“Banks are trying to be much more proactive in looking at fairness, rather than technical compliance,” she said. “A lot of the industry has not yet made that shift, but it’s happening rapidly.”
While the enactment of the law has begun to change the financial system, the lobbying battle in Washington rages on in Congress and the regulatory agencies.
The financial services industry, which is facing the largest re-write of its rules in more than 70 years, is deploying all of its expertise and resources to help shape the rules through research, comment letters and meetings with regulators, said Timothy Ryan, president and CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
The 10 largest U.S. banks by assets spent $11.2 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2011, according to Senate disclosure forms. Five of the 10 firms, including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, spent more in the first quarter of 2011, in the wake of Dodd-Frank, than they did before its passage in the first quarter of 2010.
In addition, four Washington trade groups representing the largest banks — including Ryan’s securities association, the American Bankers Association, the Financial Services Roundtable and the Financial Services Forum — combined to spend $6.25 million in the first quarter.
“We’re working seamlessly with all of these trade groups,” said Ryan, whose group has filed more than 100 comment letters with the rule-writing agencies and is planning to increase its activity in the months ahead. “Almost all of us are working together now and we’re divvying up assignments based on expertise.”
Provisions that bankers consider most harmful to their business models have gotten special attention. Many financial lobbyists, for example, spent a year fighting with retailers over the Dodd-Frank provision that cuts the fees merchants must pay each time their customers swipe a debit card — a revenue stream worth some $16 billion each year to banks large and small. The Fed on June 29 set the fee at about half the current average of 44 cents per transaction, after the banks argued that the original plan for a 12-cent cap was too low.
In Congress, lawmakers from both parties have rallied behind real estate brokers, homebuilders and consumer groups in pressuring regulators to water down a rule on mortgage risk retention, which would force lenders to keep a 5 percent stake in loans they bundle for investors. Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have also kept the pressure on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission to exempt commercial end users of derivatives from margin payments.
“It feels like passing the legislation was one stage of a battle. Now we have to continue the work of implementing it,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, an advocacy group that includes the AFL-CIO labor federation
Even if Dodd-Frank is fully implemented, some economists and analysts say, its provisions don’t go far enough to shrink large, interconnected banks and prevent them from taking on risks that could threaten the financial system again.
So long as “there are institutions so powerful and considered so important that they require special support and different rules, the future of capitalism is at risk and our market economy is in peril,” Thomas M. Hoenig, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said at a conference on Dodd-Frank in June. “To more fundamentally address this issue, we must go beyond today’s Dodd-Frank.”
Dimon and Bernanke
At the June meeting with Bernanke, Dimon expressed the opposite concern when he rose out of the audience: “Do you have a fear, like I do, that when we look back” at all the Dodd- Frank rules, “they will be a reason it took so long that our banks, our credit, our businesses, and most importantly job creation to start going again?” he asked.
When Dimon had finished reeling off the ways the industry had already changed in the wake of the financial crisis, Bernanke paused and looked at him.
“Well, Jamie, that list you gave made me feel pretty good there for a while,” the Fed chairman said. “It sounded like we’re getting a lot done.”
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