Steven Mnuchin, who stands to be the third Goldman Sachs alum to serve as Treasury secretary in the past 17 years, offered some encouraging words for his former colleagues hoping that a Donald Trump administration will loosen regulations on Wall Street. Mnuchin said the president-elect’s “number-one priority on the regulatory side” would be to “strip back” certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, President Barack Obama’s signature financial-reform package.
“The number-one problem with Dodd-Frank is that it’s way too complicated and cuts back lending,” Mnuchin said in a CNBC interview Wednesday.
While Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer has vowed to block any legislative changes to Dodd-Frank, there remains much a Trump administration can do to weaken the law without congressional approval. For instance, it can roll back or simply not enforce regulations created to carry out the law.
Consider the Volcker Rule, which at heart is a simple idea: Government-guaranteed banks can’t use their own capital to make risky bets in the market. But the banks lobbied fiercely to establish very specific rules of the road, and their efforts led to a final version of the law that grew to 272 mind-numbing pages. Mnuchin told CNBC the Volcker Rule is “too complicated and people don’t know how to interpret it. We’re going to look at what to do with it, as we are with all of Dodd-Frank.”
At a conference last month, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker defended the rule he fought to implement in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. “Go and speculate all you like,” he said, “but not on my dime.”
Mnuchin’s contention that regulation has caused banks to dial back credit is contradicted by Federal Reserve data showing that lenders have become more accommodating in recent years, especially when it comes to small-business loans.
A Fed study released in March of some 3,500 small companies across the country found that 47% had applied for credit last year, and about 80% of them got some or all of the financing they wanted, a big increase from 2014, when 65% of firms were approved, and 2013, when just 54% received financing. The study also found that just one in five small businesses seeking credit was denied a loan last year, down from 35% in 2014 and 44% in 2013.
If confirmed, Mnuchin would be the third Goldman executive to serve as Treasury secretary, following Robert Rubin, who served in the Bill Clinton administration from 1995 to 1999, and Hank Paulson, who worked under George W. Bush from 2006 to 2009. Both had much more senior roles within Goldman and were better known outside the firm than Mnuchin. Rubin was co-chairman and co-senior partner when he left for Washington, and Paulson was the chairman and CEO. Mnuchin was a Goldman partner who specialized in mortgage and government-debt trading before leaving in 1999 to launch a hedge fund called Dune Capital. He bought OneWest, a failed California thrift, after the financial crisis and later sold it to CIT Group. He now serves on the Manhattan-based lender’s board. He also produced several films, including Batman v Superman and The Lego Movie, before becoming finance chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign.
“We view Mnuchin as a blank slate,” wrote Brian Gardner, an analyst at financial-services advisory firm Keefe Bruyette & Woods, before the Treasury nominee’s CNBC appearance.
Stripping back Dodd-Frank could also have a considerable impact on the city’s economy as many accounting and consulting firms have invested heavily in people and technology to help banks, hedge funds and private-equity firms comply with the law. The Jersey City-based Global Association of Risk Professionals saw membership increase by 70% between 2009 and 2014, the year when more than 32,000 people took its test to become certified risk managers.
In addition to shackling financial institutions with lots of new regulations, Dodd-Frank steered Wall Street to change its hiring and pay practices. Many bankers and traders were shown the door and replaced by people in audit, risk and compliance roles. In 2013, the highest bonus at Citigroup was awarded to the chief risk officer. Last year, Bank of America paid its chief risk officer $8.7 million, about the same amount that went to the executive who heads Merrill Lynch.