On Friday, President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive action to scale back the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law, in a sweeping plan to dismantle much of the regulatory system put in place after the financial crisis. The order won’t have any immediate impact. But it directs the Treasury secretary to consult with members of different regulatory agencies and the Financial Stability Oversight Council and report back on potential changes.
“There are quite a few things that we could do on Dodd-Frank … that we think will have fairly immediate and dramatic impact,” the official said, including personnel changes at regulatory agencies and additional executive orders.
That likely includes a review of the CFPB, which vastly expanded regulators’ ability to police consumer products — from mortgages to credit cards to student loans. Trump administration officials, like other critics, argue Dodd-Frank did not achieve what it set out to do and portray it as an example of massive government over-reach.
Trump will also sign a presidential memorandum Friday that instructs the Labor Department to delay implementing the so-called “fiduciary rule” – an Obama-era rule that requires financial professionals who charge commissions to put their clients’ best interests first when giving advice on retirement investments. The “fiduciary rule” was aimed at blocking financial advisers from steering clients toward investments with higher commissions and fees that can eat away at retirement savings.
The retirement advice rule was issued by the Obama administration and was set to take effect in April. It has been staunchly opposed by the financial services industry, who argue the rule limits retirees’ investment choices by forcing asset managers to steer them to the lowest-risk options. Opponents of the rule argued that the rule would result in high costs that will ultimately make small accounts unprofitable. While some lawsuits were filed against the rule, companies like Bank of America Corp’s Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley had announced plans to cooperate with the rule. The Labor Department had estimated that it could cost firms as much as $31 billion over the next decade to comply.
“Americans are going to have better choices and Americans are going to have better products because we’re not going to burden the banks with literally hundreds of billions of dollars of regulatory costs every year,” White House National Economic Council Director, and former Goldman president, Gary Cohn said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “The banks are going to be able to price product more efficiently and more effectively to consumers.”
A senior White House official outlined the measures in a background briefing with reporters Thursday. “We think that they have exceeded their authority with this rule and we think this is something that is completely overreaching,” the official told reporters at a briefing on Thursday.
Trump pledged during the campaign to repeal and replace the law, which also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Dodd-Frank is a disaster,” Trump said earlier this week during a meeting with small business owners. “We’re going to be doing a big number on Dodd-Frank.”
Cohn said the actions are intended to pave the way for additional orders that would affect the postcrisis Financial Stability Oversight Council, the mechanism for winding down a giant faltering financial company, and the way the government supervises big financial firms that aren’t traditional banks, often referred to as systemically important financial institutions.
More from the WSJ:
Trump blamed the political establishment and Wall Street banks for leaving behind many Americans and vowed to break up both. Those promises have already been called into question as he has filled his administration with members of Congress and Wall Street executives, including Mr. Cohn, who retired as president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to join the Trump administration.
Adding to the potentially difficult optics for Mr. Trump, he will sign the actions on the same day he meets with a group of business executives, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive James Dimon and BlackRock Inc. CEO Laurence Fink. Asked about the potential political pushback because of his Wall Street past, Mr. Cohn said the administration’s goal of deregulating financial markets “has nothing to do with Goldman Sachs.”
“It has nothing to do with J.P. Morgan,” he said. “It has nothing to do with Citigroup. It has nothing to do with Bank of America. It has to do with being a player in a global market where we should, could and will have a dominant position as long as we don’t regulate ourselves out of that.”
The changes Cohn described are sure to face a fight from consumer groups and Democrats, who say postcrisis regulations are protecting average borrowers and investors from abusive practices, while making the financial system more resilient and bailouts less likely.
This path also may create political problems for Mr. Trump, whose campaign was successful in swaths of the Midwest where homeowners were hit hardest by the housing crash sparked by the financial crisis.
Meanwhile, asked about the potential political pushback because of his Wall Street past, in his WSJ interview Cohn said the administration’s goal of deregulating financial markets “has nothing to do with Goldman Sachs.”
“It has nothing to do with J.P. Morgan,” he said. “It has nothing to do with Citigroup. It has nothing to do with Bank of America. It has to do with being a player in a global market where we should, could and will have a dominant position as long as we don’t regulate ourselves out of that.” Cohn said existing regulations put in place by Dodd-Frank are so sweeping that it is too hard for banks to lend, and consumers’ choice of financial products is too limited.
Democrats and consumer groups have pushed for tighter controls on banks and other lenders, particularly after the subprime mortgage crisis that helped fuel the global financial crisis. But Cohn said that many of the postcrisis rules haven’t solved the problems they were supposed to be addressing. He said, for example, that there still isn’t a solid process to safely wind down the collapse of a giant faltering financial company or to ensure that those firms have access to short-term liquidity.
“I’m not sitting here saying we want to go back to the good old days,” Cohn said. “We have the best, most highly capitalized banks in the world, and we should use that to our competitive advantage,” he added. “But on the flip side, we also have the most highly regulated, overburdened banks in the world.”
Cohn also laid out a road map for how the Trump administration plans to target new financial rules. He said the Treasury Department would lead an effort to overhaul mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were put into government conservatorship after the crisis. He also said that the White House wouldn’t need a change in the law to redirect the mission of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the 2010 law and which governs things like mortgage and credit-card rules. (Please see related article on B10.)
He suggested the White House could influence the mission of the bureau, set up as an independent agency, by putting a new person at its helm to replace Richard Cordray, the agency’s director. Asked about potential changes at the agency, he said, “Personnel is policy.”
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Trump said repeatedly during the presidential campaign that the Dodd-Frank overhaul law was preventing banks from lending, which he said made it harder for consumers to access credit and get the economy to grow. Financial analysts have had mixed views on this assessment. Some believe that low demand from consumers has hurt the ability of banks to lend, and low interest rates have hurt the returns banks make on these loans. But smaller banks have said they are dealing with a crush of new regulations spurred by Dodd-Frank, something regulators have struggled to address.
Cohn didn’t specify how all of these regulations should be rewritten, but he said that financial markets have made their own corrections and that the environment that fueled the financial crisis no longer existed. He said, for example, that even if mortgage restrictions are rolled back, it doesn’t mean that there would be another boom in the subprime lending market. That is because, he said, those loans can’t be securitized and sold like they were before the financial crisis because the market for those products isn’t the same.
“We don’t want to do it an unregulated way,” he said. “We want to do it in a smart, regulated way.”
Translation: we want our bubble, we want to be able to securitize, package and sell it, we want to offload risky exposure to momentum-chasing retail investors and, potentially, widows and orphans.
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