President Obama gave a speech on Wall Street today that sent a strong message: We must learn from last year’s financial collapse and improve our national regulatory system to fix its underlying weaknesses.
“Instead of learning the lessons of Lehman and the crisis from which we are still recovering, they are choosing to ignore them,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan. “They do so not just at their own peril, but at our nation’s … I want everybody here to hear my words. We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess at the heart of this crisis, where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses. Those on Wall Street cannot resume taking risks without regard for consequences, and expect that next time, American taxpayers will be there to break their fall.”
These are the strongest statements I have heard from the president on how better risk management — internally at banks, systematically from the regulators and philosophically from those working on Wall Street — must be embraced. With Obama using so much of his political capital and “mandate for change” on health care (albeit with little progress), it remains to be seen if he will be able to spur Congress to enact any progress on reforming the financial industry. The White House certainly hasn’t been able to get Capitol Hill to do much thus far.
Mr. Obama’s planned overhaul would dramatically rewrite the rules of the road for the U.S. financial sector, with new protections for consumers and safeguards against the potential collapse of more big banks. But it is unclear if Congress can unite behind a revamp on Mr. Obama’s timetable, given the time-consuming debate over health care and disagreements between lawmakers on the major components of the overhaul.
The Atlantic ran its piece today to mark the anniversary of the collapse, looking at “5 Reasons to Worry.” In their first reason, they warn against the fact that “in the U.S. and many other countries, the too-big-to-fail banks have become even bigger,” according to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist and the former chief economist at the World Bank. Among the other four reasons to worry are: continued federal subsidies, unchecked greed and unregulated derivatives.
Those in the risk management industry are unfortunately accustomed to having their advice ignored. Twelve months after the largest collective failure of financial risk management to occur in my lifetime, however, it remains shocking that so little has been done to fix the problem.