Treasury secretary Geithner promises swift implementation of financial reform law

Treasury secretary Geithner promises swift implementation of financial reform law

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[JURIST] Speaking to a crowd of students and businesspeople at New York University’s Stern School of Business on Tuesday, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner [official profile] promised [speech text] a rapid rollout of new rules mandated by the Restoring Financial Stability Act [HR 4173 materials]. Signed into law [JURIST report] by President Barack Obama last month, the landmark legislation creates a new regulatory council to monitor financial institutions to prevent companies from becoming “too big to fail.” It also gives the Federal Reserve [official website] new oversight over the largest financial institutions, creates a bureau of consumer protection, introduces multitudes of new regulations on derivatives and other financial instruments and limits the amount of capital banks can invest in hedge funds. Geithner said that the new Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) would convene in September to create plan to move forward, citing advancement of consumer protections, housing finance reform and derivatives trading reform as major goals. Of even greater emphasis, he said, would be creating responsible new capitalization requirements for the nation’s largest financial institutions to ensure that large banks do not become over-leveraged, but still allow them the freedom to grow and develop new markets:

Financial crises are, at their core, caused by excess leverage …. Part of what made this crisis so severe was that capital requirements failed to keep up with risks and failed to force firms to prepare for the possibility of a very severe recession … This mistake was made worse by the fact that we allowed a large parallel financial system — composed of investment banks, consumer finance companies, and firms like AIG — to grow up alongside the regulated banking system. In that parallel system, firms were allowed to operate with very thin capital cushions and to finance their activities with short-term, unstable sources of funding.

Geithner said that the FSOC and other regulatory bodies will work over the coming months to forge an “international agreement” among the world’s financial institutions and regulators on a set of new capitalization rules to prevent a “race to the bottom” of risk standards among investors in the global market. “We will move as quickly as possible to bring clarity to the new rules of finance,” he said. “The rule writing process traditionally has moved at a frustrating, glacial pace. We must change that.”

The House and Senate reconciled their versions of the bill [JURIST report] last month but were forced to re-open negotiations, eventually removing a $17.9 billion tax on large financial institutions that was meant to cover the bill’s costs. The Senate approved its version of the bill in May, after the House passed its version [JURIST reports] in December. The Senate Banking Committe [official website] proposed a bill [text, PDF; JURIST report] in 2009 that was met with resistance and resulted in the committee’s development of the bill ultimately passed by the Senate. One provision in the bill that has been the source of much debate is the creation of a consumer protection agency. The House Financial Services Committee [official website] had approved a bill to create the agency in October, after originally delaying [JURIST reports] it at the behest of financial industry leaders in July 2009. The creation of the agency is a key step in achieving the Obama administration’s stated goal of tightening financial industry regulations. Last June, the administration proposed a broad series of regulatory reforms [press release; JURIST report] aimed at restoring confidence in the US financial system.