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Friday, April 20, 2012
U.S TREASURY ON WALL STREET REFORM
FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
Wall Street Reform for U.S. Department of the Treasury
As prepared for delivery
NEW YORK – Good afternoon. It is a privilege to address the International Section of the American Bar Association, and to be speaking about international regulatory reform. The subject matter is particularly timely given that the world’s finance ministers will gather in Washington, D.C. for the G-20 this weekend.
We have learned from recent events, including the financial crisis, that financial systems and markets around the world are more integrated than ever. Therefore, financial reforms around the globe must be consistent and convergent.
I will touch on three key priorities that were agreed upon by the G-20 – capital, resolution, and OTC derivatives – as well as insurance regulation.
We are transitioning now from regulatory design to implementation. We must acknowledge that the task is both difficult and complex. We must work together through the G-20 and the Financial Stability Board to make the new rules effective. We all share a common interest in a global financial system that is safe and resilient, and that supports growth.
The Importance of Reform
Let me begin by retreading familiar ground: the financial crisis revealed that the risks facing our system can be correlated and crosscutting, and that they can affect multiple firms, markets, and countries simultaneously. The crisis laid bare the fundamental weaknesses of the previous financial regulatory infrastructure.
To preserve financial stability, it became essential to establish a regulatory structure that could properly assess the financial system as a whole, not simply its component parts – a regulatory structure in which the failure of one firm, or problems in one corner of the system, would not risk bringing down the entire financial system. It was important to establish a modern regulatory framework that could keep pace with financial sector innovations, restore market discipline, and safeguard financial stability in both the United States and abroad. The United States has played a leading role in this global financial reform by enacting the Dodd-Frank Act.
Some have argued that these new rules and standards put U.S. financial firms at a competitive disadvantage. While we must always work towards having a level competitive playing field, I believe such arguments are misplaced.
First, by moving quickly, we in the United States have been able to lead from a position of strength in setting the international reform agenda.
Second, there is already evidence that our actions – both the immediate response to the crisis and permanent reforms under the Dodd-Frank Act – have bolstered the recovery of the U.S. financial system. Bank balance sheets are stronger. Tier 1 common equity at large bank holding companies has increased by more than 70 percent or by $560 billion since the first quarter of 2009. Additionally, at the four largest bank holding companies, for example, reliance on short-term wholesale financial debt has decreased from a peak of 36 percent of total assets in 2007 to 20 percent at the end of 2011. The firms’ liquidity positions are more robust and their funding sources are more reliable. Firms have significantly reduced leverage. Recent stress tests showed that the bank holding companies are better able to withstand significant shocks.
Third, I believe that consumers, investors, and businesses feel more secure when they deal with financial institutions that are well-regulated and transparent, because these attributes engender trust. Trust is essential for the financial system to perform its most basic functions, including credit intermediation. For many years, investors from all over the world have trusted the U.S. financial system. Regulation that is both strong and sensible is essential to continue that trust.
Over the past three years, we have made substantial progress in restoring this trust to our financial system and thereby improving financial stability. Long-term economic growth and credit intermediation are only sustainable under a model in which there is confidence in financial stability.
All of this being said, it is nevertheless important to remember that financial systems are interconnected and that risks both transcend and migrate across national borders. Therefore, we must work towards building a system where there is broad global agreement on the basic rules of the road.
Global coordination is important not only for maintaining a level playing field, but also for promoting financial stability. We can ill afford the risk of regulatory arbitrage. If riskier activities migrate unchecked to jurisdictions with inadequate rules and supervision, the threats that will emerge will have implications not just for the host country, but for the global financial system. The financial crisis exposed the failure of weak regulation.
Europe has taken important steps toward reform. The EU is working through its most extensive financial services reform. It has proposed or adopted around thirty reform measures, including almost all of the key measures agreed to by the G-20. The United States and the EU are aligned on the fundamental goals of regulatory reform, and are united by a shared view that it is necessary to complete at an international level the work that is underway. Treasury and U.S. regulatory agencies have worked closely with our counterparts in the European Commission and the European Supervisory Agencies to align our regulations more closely.
It is unlikely that we and our European counterparts will attain perfect alignment. But most of the differences between us are technical, not matters of principle. While we must work diligently to resolve our technical differences, we should not let them overshadow our shared commitment to reform. We must also see to it that other regions follow through on implementing reforms, particularly Asia, given the importance of financial centers like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. The global financial system will continue to strengthen as a result of our efforts. Backtracking on reforms is not an option.
G-20 and the Joint Reform Agenda
The G-20 has been, and will continue to be, a key vehicle for coordinating our reform efforts. Since the first meetings of the G-20, and especially since the Pittsburgh meetings during the height of the financial crisis in 2009, the Group has worked to increase the strength and effectiveness of the international regulatory framework through a comprehensive agenda for reform. This agenda has been reaffirmed and further developed at each subsequent Summit. The Financial Stability Forum, which was expanded and strengthened as the Financial Stability Board (FSB) in 2009, has also played a key role in this process, with support from the global standard-setting bodies.
This year in the G-20, the United States is emphasizing progress on implementation in three key areas: capital, resolution, and OTC derivatives. Let me now turn to discussing these three priorities as well as international coordination around insurance, which will also be an area of focus in the coming year.
The crisis showed that financial institutions were not sufficiently capitalized to withstand significant market pressures. To maintain financial stability, taxpayers in countries across the globe had to provide capital support to financial institutions in order to prevent their failure. There was little question that, going forward, banks needed to be more resilient, with better quality capital buffers.
The international regulatory community acted with dispatch and urgency to achieve consensus on Basel 2.5 and Basel III capital standards. The new Basel capital standards provide a uniform definition of capital across jurisdictions, and it requires banks to hold significantly more and higher-quality capital. The reforms to the Basel Capital Standards also establish a mandatory leverage ratio and a liquidity coverage ratio.
More work remains with respect to the Basel Capital Standards. International agreement on standards must be followed with implementation by G-20 members. Moreover, important debates continue around issues such as liquidity run-off ratios and measurement of capital deductions. The Basel Committee is now working toward more consistent measurement of risk-weighted assets across jurisdictions.
While these points are relatively technical, it is important that the new rules be consistent not only in principle, but also in practice. Consistent cross-border application of capital standards is important to maintaining a level playing field.
Strengthening cross-border resolution regimes is complicated. But it is a critically important topic.
The U.S. experience with Lehman Brothers showed the potentially devastating consequences to financial stability of the disorderly bankruptcy of a financial firm. Thus, the Dodd-Frank Act provides for orderly resolution of financial companies, including non-bank financial institutions. The FDIC and Federal Reserve have already adopted a number of rules pursuant to these new authorities, including a “living wills” rule that requires large bank holding companies and designated nonbank financial companies to prepare resolution plans. The largest bank holding companies will submit the first living wills in July.
The goal of international convergence was furthered this year when the G-20 endorsed the “Key Attributes of Effective Resolution Regimes for Financial Institutions.” This new international standard addresses such critical issues as the scope and independence of the resolution authority, the essential powers and authorities that a resolution authority must possess, and how jurisdictions can facilitate cross-border cooperation in resolutions of significant financial institutions. The Key Attributes provide guidelines for how jurisdictions should develop recovery and resolution plans for specific institutions and for assessing the resolvability of their institutions. This new international standard also sets forth the elements that countries should include in their resolution regimes while avoiding severe systemic consequences or taxpayer loss.
Therefore, much progress has already been made and even more will be completed by the end of this year: cross-border crisis management groups for the largest firms have been established, additional cross-border cooperation agreements will be put in place, and recovery and resolution plans are being developed.
The crisis also showed that we did not have a sufficient understanding of derivatives, which are an important means of interconnection between firms. The flaws attendant to this area of financial transactions were many: poor access to useful data such that, at critical times, neither supervisors nor counterparties knew who owed what to whom; poor risk management such that firms were not able to satisfy their contractual obligations with respect to collateral; and a generally fragmented and opaque market. It is common ground that the lack of oversight in the derivatives markets exacerbated the financial crisis.
The Dodd-Frank Act creates a comprehensive framework of regulation for the OTC derivatives markets. The elements of this framework include regulation of dealers, mandatory clearing, trading, and transparency. The framework established under the Dodd-Frank Act is consistent with that of the G-20. The CFTC and SEC are well into their rule-making process. Once again, the United States and the EU have closely cooperated in this area, and have adopted parallel approaches to important issues such as central clearing, trading platforms, and reporting to trade repositories.
While the reforms set forth a framework for on-exchange-traded derivatives, it is also important for us to make progress on establishing a global regime for margin for bespoke, un-cleared derivatives transactions. Both the United States and the EU support international work on global margin standards for trades that are not cleared through a central counterparty. Margin requirements are critical to promoting the safety and soundness of the dealers, and thereby lower risk in the financial system.
While we have made some progress, there is still much work to be done on derivatives, including completing the implementation efforts and meeting agreed G-20 timetables.
Finally, I would like to turn to insurance regulation. Important strides have been made in this area. The Dodd-Frank Act created and placed within the Treasury Department the Federal Insurance Office (FIO). While FIO is not a regulator, it has broad responsibilities to monitor all aspects of the insurance industry and is the first federal office in this sector. Among its duties, FIO is charged with coordinating federal efforts and developing federal policy on prudential aspects of international insurance matters, including representing the United States in the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, or IAIS. Notably, FIO recently joined the Executive Committee of the IAIS.
FIO’s establishment coincides with the rapid internationalization of the insurance sector and work ongoing in various international regulatory bodies that will affect U.S.-based companies operating around the world. FIO’s international priorities include the IAIS initiative to create a common framework for the supervision of internationally active insurance groups, or ComFrame. FIO is also engaged in the IAIS work stream to develop a methodology that will identify globally significant insurance institutions, an assignment given to the IAIS by the Financial Stability Board. Finally, FIO is leading an insurance dialogue between the United States and the EU that aims to establish a platform for insurers based on both sides of the Atlantic to compete fairly and on a level playing field.
We must continue to work with our partners in the G-20 and the Financial Stability Board to ensure a consistent international financial reform agenda. It is not enough to mitigate risk within the United States. Reform must be global in nature.
But, financial reform cannot just respond to events of the past. It must be forward-looking and it must help lay the foundations for sustainable growth. Financial reform, embodied by responsible and robust regulation, is critical to establishing and maintaining confidence. Confidence is critical for long-term financial stability and growth.
Our past experience confirms our current judgment. In the decades following the Great Depression, the United States set the highest standards for disclosure and investor protection, the strongest protections for depositors, and sophisticated market rules. We did not lower our standards even when others might have. Financial regulation became a source of strength for our financial system and led to a period of significant growth and prosperity.
Today, as our predecessors did in the wake of the Great Depression, we also have the opportunity to restore trust in the global financial system through a smart regulatory framework that could support sustainable economic expansion.