Ben Lawsky: We should have done this earlier

Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services.
Mike Segar | Reuters

New York's top financial regulator, Benjamin Lawsky, said on Tuesday that his agency should have focused on individual accountability for financial misconduct earlier.

"I think if I look back, the one thing I wish we had done earlier was shifted to a focus on individual accountability," he said in an interview on "Squawk on the Street."

"Large fines will only get you so far, especially because a lot of that is just being handled by shareholders. If you hold individuals accountable, I think that is really when you are going to see a change in conduct."

Last week the state's top financial regulator announced that he would be leaving his post as the state's first superintendent of financial services to start his own consulting firm.

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The agency was created in the wake of the financial crisis by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2011. The department regulates financial services and products across the state.

When asked about his legacy of sometimes being both confrontational and controversial with the companies he regulated, Lawsky said, "I won't shy away from it, we were at times willing to say to a bank, 'What you have done is awful and there is going to be a real price to pay for that.' "

Lawsky: One thing I wish we'd done earlier in my tenure...
Lawsky: One thing I wish we'd done earlier in my tenure...

Lawsky said that "the time was right" for him to step down from the position. He has been in government service for about 20 years.

"I've loved the job," he said. "We've built a great team and whoever sits in the corner office, the work of DFS is going to continue and it's going to continue to be a powerful and important agency."