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Goldman Sachs CEO prepares for 'edgy' talk from politicians ahead of 2020 election

Key Points
  • Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon is girding for political discussions to focus on banks ahead of the next election. 
  • "I think the tone in Washington as we come into an election will be edgy with respect to our industry," Solomon said during a financial industry conference Tuesday.
David Solomon, Goldman Sachs
Jonathan Alcorn | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said he expects political discussions will target banks in the coming U.S. presidential election.

"I think the tone in Washington as we come into an election will be edgy with respect to our industry," Solomon said during a financial industry conference Tuesday.

"There's obviously a lot of political divide with respect to the role financial institutions play," said Solomon, who took over at New York-based Goldman Sachs in October. "There's a lot of social issues that will get a lot of debate. In some way, shape or form, I think financial institutions will take some noise and some focus in that discussion."

A decade after playing a central role in the 2008 financial crisis, banks are still a popular topic of criticism from elected officials, whether the subject is wealth inequality, share repurchases or too-big-to-fail institutions. For instance, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is running for president, questioned whether a recent $66 billion bank merger will end up hurting consumers. She has also repeatedly called for Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan to step down over his handling of that bank's fake accounts scandal.

At Goldman, Solomon and his management team are grappling with the fallout from the 1MDB scandal, in which one of his bankers admitted to taking part in the looting of a $6.5 billion sovereign investment fund.

It's too early to tell whether the rhetoric from Washington will lead to changes in legislation, Solomon said.

"It's something we in the industry will live with as we watch the political process unfold," he said.

Separately, Solomon said that trading and investment banking activities were "subdued" so far in the first quarter compared with a year ago, when the recent corporate tax cut energized investors.

"Capital markets activity is a little more subdued, both from the shutdown affecting IPOs, and the fact that with such volatility in December that people didn't hop into the new year ready to go," he said.