Obama's Prepared Remarks on Financial Regulatory Reform
And even as we place the authority to regulate these large firms in the hands of the Federal Reserve — so that lines of responsibility and accountability are clear — we will also create an oversight council to bring together regulators from across markets to coordinate and share information; to identify gaps in regulation; and to tackle issues that don’t fit neatly in an organizational chart. We’re going to bring everyone together to take a broader view — and a longer view – to solve problems in oversight before they can become crises.
As part of this effort, we are proposing the creation of what is called "resolution authority" for large and interconnected financial firms so that we are not only putting in place safeguards to prevent the failure of these firms, but also a set of orderly procedures that will allow us to protect the economy if such a firm does in fact go under.
Think about this: if a bank fails, we have a process through the FDIC that protects depositors and maintains confidence in the banking system. This process was created during Great Depression when the failure of one bank led to runs on other banks, which in turn threatened wider turmoil. And it works. Yet we do not have any effective system in place to contain the failure of an AIG and the largest and most interconnected financial firms in our country.
That is why, when this crisis began, crucial decisions about what would happen to some of the world’s biggest companies — companies employing tens of thousands of people and holding trillions of dollars in assets — took place in emergency meetings in the middle of the night. And that is why we’ve had to rely on taxpayer dollars. We should not be forced to choose between allowing a company to fall into a rapid and chaotic dissolution or to support the company with taxpayer money. That is unacceptable. There is too much at stake.
Second, we are proposing a new and powerful agency charged with just one job: looking out for ordinary consumers. This is essential, for this crisis was not just the result of decisions made by the mightiest of financial firms; it was also the result of decisions made by ordinary Americans to open credit cards, take out home loans, and take on other financial obligations. We know that there were many who took out loans they knew they could not afford, but there are also millions of Americans who signed contracts they did not always understand offered by lenders who did not always tell the truth. Even today, folks signing up for a mortgage, student loan, or credit card face a bewildering array of incomprehensible options. Companies compete not by offering better products, but more complicated ones, with more fine print and hidden terms.
This new agency will change that, building on credit card reforms I signed into law a few weeks ago. This agency will have the power to set standards so that companies compete by offering innovative products that consumers actually want — and actually understand. Consumers will be provided information that is simple, transparent, and accurate. You’ll be able to compare products and see what is best for you. The most unfair practices will be banned. Those ridiculous contracts — pages of fine print that no one can figure out – will be a thing of the past. And enforcement will be the rule, not the exception.
For example, this agency will be empowered to set new rules for home mortgage lending, so that the bad practices that led to the home mortgage crisis will be stamped out. Mortgage brokers will be held to higher standards; exotic mortgages that hide exploding costs will no longer be the norm; home mortgage disclosures will be reasonable, clearly written, and concise. And we’re going to level the playing field so that non-banks that offer home loans are held to the same standards as banks that offer similar services, so that lenders aren’t competing to lower standards — but to meet a higher bar on behalf of consumers.
The mission of this new agency must also be reflected in the work we do throughout the government. There are other agencies, like the Federal Trade Commission, charged with protecting consumers, and we must ensure that those agencies have the resources, and the state-of-the-art tools, to stop unfair and deceptive practices as well.
Third, we are proposing a series of changes designed to promote free and fair markets by closing gaps and overlaps in our regulatory system — including gaps that exist not just within but between nations.
We’ve seen that structural deficiencies allow some companies to shop for the regulator of their choice — and others, like hedge funds, to operate outside the regulatory system altogether. We’ve seen the development of financial instruments, like many derivatives, so complex as to defy efforts to assess their actual value. And we’ve seen a system that allowed lenders to profit by providing loans to borrowers who would never repay — because the lender offloaded the loan, and the consequences, to someone else.
That is why, as part of these reforms, we will dismantle the Office of Thrift Supervision and close loopholes that have allowed important institutions to cherry-pick among banking rules. We will offer only one federal banking charter, regulated by a strengthened federal supervisor. We’ll raise capital requirements for all depository institutions. And hedge fund advisers will be required to register with the SEC.
We are also proposing comprehensive regulation of credit default swaps and other derivatives that have threatened the entire financial system. And we will require the originator of a loan to retain an economic interest in that loan, so that the lender — and not just the holder of a security, for example – has an interest in ensuring that a loan is paid back. By setting common-sense rules, these kinds of financial instruments can play a constructive — not destructive — role.
Over the past two decades, we have seen — time and again — cycles of precipitous booms and busts. In each case, millions of people have had their lives profoundly disrupted by developments in the financial system, most severely in our recent crisis. These aren’t just numbers on a ledger. This is a child’s chance to get an education. This is a family’s ability to pay their bills or stay in their home. This is the right of our seniors to retire with dignity and security. These are American dreams, and we should not accept a system that consistently puts them in danger. Financial institutions have an obligation to themselves and to the public to manage risks carefully. And as President, I have a responsibility to ensure that our financial system works for the economy as a whole.
There has always been a tension between those who place their faith in the invisible hand of the marketplace — and those who place more trust in the guiding hand of the government. That tension isn’t a bad thing. It gives rise to the debates and dynamism that make it possible for us to adapt and grow. For we know that markets are not an unalloyed force for good or for ill. In many ways, our financial system reflects us. In the aggregate of countless independent decisions, we see the potential for creativity — and the potential for abuse. We see the capacity for innovations that make our economy stronger — and for innovations that exploit our economy’s weaknesses.
We are called upon to put in place those reforms that allow our best qualities to flourish — while keeping those worst traits in check. We are called upon to recognize that the free market is the most powerful generative force for our prosperity — but it is not a free license to ignore the consequences of our actions.
This is a difficult time for our nation. But from this period of challenge, we can once again tap those values and ideals that have allowed us to lead the global economy, and will allow us to lead once again. That is how we will help more Americans live their own dreams. That is why these reforms are so important. And I look to working with leaders in Congress and all of you to see these proposals put to work so that we can overcome this crisis and build a foundation for lasting prosperity.