Wall Street

Trading ban implemented on banks after Lehman's collapse is close to getting watered down

Key Points
  • The Volcker rule put limits on bank trading and investing activities.
  • Critics have long said the rule created complicated compliance issues and unnecessarily burdened banks.
Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) (L) and former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) talk about their hallmark and namesake legislation, the Dodd-Frank reform law, on the fifth anniversary of the law at the Newseum July 20, 2015 in Washington.
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The government is asking the public for its input on whether to roll back some crisis-era rules that clamped down on trading and risky investments by banks.

The national bank regulator, called the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is opening a public comment period asking if the Volcker rule should be revised to lessen the compliance burden on banks. "This is one piece of a larger interagency effort to improve the rule," the notice said on Wednesday.

The rule, which is part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms, was meant to restrict banks from trading or undertaking other risky investing activities for their own accounts in the aftermath of a financial crisis that felled Lehman Brothers and sent many other financial firms scrambling for safety.

It required big Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to curtail trading desks and exit investments in private equity and hedge funds, and as a result they have shifted the focus of their business.

But the Volcker rule has been widely criticized for creating complex compliance issues, including how to define trades that are speculative versus those that facilitate customer needs, and how to determine what investment activities are permissible. Late last year the Fed gave Wall Street five more years to unload stakes in some of their harder-to-sell investments to get into compliance with the rule.

The regulator is looking at whether to change aspects of the rule that defined the type of trading it covers, which firms are covered by it and how bank compliance with the rule is measured.

The OCC says lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree there is a need to clarify the Volcker Rule, which was named after former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, to remove unnecessary burdens on banks.