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Bank lobbyists plead to delay derivatives, FDIC fee rules

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A fundamental principle of Lobbying 101 is that when a regulatory issue isn’t going your way, ask for more time. So it’s not surprising to see Wall Street and banking lobbyists starting to plead with regulators to delay the aggressive deadlines set by the Dodd-Frank reform law.

The influential American Bankers Association this week asked the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to extend the Jan. 3 deadline for comments on the agency’s plan to link the fees that banks pay to the FDIC to insure customer deposits to total bank assets, replacing the current practice of basing the fee on deposits.

What’s the difference? Well, thanks to its global businesses, Bank of America had about $2.4 trillion in total assets on Sept. 30, more than double the bank’s $974 billion in customer deposits. That means BoA would have to pay a much bigger quarterly fee for its deposit insurance beginning on June 30, 2011, based on the FDIC proposal.

“Because of the complexities of the proposed large bank risk based assessment system, and the significant financial impact it may have on institutions, we believe that it is appropriate to give more time for banks to review and comment on this proposal,” the ABA said in a letter to the FDIC.

ABA lobbyists have also joined forces with the Financial Services Roundtable, Investment Company Institute, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and seven other groups to delay regulations policing the multi-hundred-trillion-dollar derivatives market.

Under the Dodd-Frank reform law, certain derivatives, such as credit default swaps, must be cleared on exchanges visible to regulator scrutiny. Banks must spin off other, riskier types of swap trading.

“To implement a complex new regulatory structure without adequate time to adapt, prepare, and test systems also could lead to an ineffective or poorly designed reporting, clearing, and exchange infrastructure, which also would impair liquidity and lead to higher costs, increased risk, and other adverse consequences,” the groups said in a Dec. 6 letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Instead of following the one-year deadline set by the Dodd-Frank law, the SEC and CFTC should phase in new regulations “over a reasonable period of time” determined by banks that have a stake in derivatives clearinghouses and by companies trading the sophisticated instruments, the letter said.

A go-slow approach would also get an approving nod from the new Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Spencer Bachus. After last month’s election that returned control of the House to Republicans, Bachus said he was sympathetic to industry worries that regulation of derivatives would dry up liquidity and was a “job-killing” provision of the Dodd-Frank law.

Bachus affirmed his views last week, telling the Birmingham News, “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.” The newspaper said Bachus later clarified his comment to say that regulators should set the parameters under which banks operate, but not micromanage them.

The SEC, meanwhile, has met with more than 40 big Wall Street banks and finance industry groups since August to discuss the multiple rulemakings for derivatives trading that are now underway. Among the repeat visitors: Goldman Sachs, the Financial Services Roundtable, and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, according to documents posted on the SEC website.

But that’s nothing compared to the army of lobbyists for banks, investment funds, and financial exchanges who are lining up for meetings at the CFTC, which is taking the lead as the two agencies develop derivatives rules.

Goldman Sachs lobbyists have met in person or on conference calls with CFTC officials at least 30 times since late July when the Dodd-Frank bill became law, according to the agency’s website.

Other lobbyists filling up appointment calendars at the CFTC: Morgan Stanley with 22 meetings, hedge fund Black Rock and financial exchange ICE each with 18 meetings; Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. 17; Managed Funds Association 16; lobbying firm Patton Boggs 15; Bank of New York Mellon 12; JPMorgan and International Swaps and Derivatives Association each with 11; and futures exchange CME Group 10.

Lobbyist Meetings With Regulators

Financial Reform Watch compiled this list of websites that disclose lobbyist meetings with regulators to influence how the Dodd-Frank reform law is carried out:

  • Comptroller of Currency – no disclosure of lobbyist meetings
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – no website yet exists
  • Federal Housing Finance Agency – no disclosure of lobbyist meetings