US to reveal banking reform plans

June 17, 2009
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, AMERICA, June 17 – The US government is set to announce a major reform of banking regulation to prevent future financial crises.

President Barack Obama is due to set out plans requiring big banks to put more money aside against future losses and curb excessive risk taking.

The US central bank, the Federal Reserve, will be given the authority to monitor major financial institutions.

And consumers will get a special agency to protect their interests and regulate mortgages and credit cards.

The plan is the biggest shake-up of the US system of financial regulation since the 1930s.

Its aim is to deal with the weaknesses that the sub-prime crisis and the financial meltdown revealed in the fragmented US regulatory system.

"We have tried to identify the set of issues that are most crucial," Larry Summers, the top economic adviser to Mr Obama, told the Financial Times.

These include dealing with systemic risks that could bring down the whole financial system, raising capital requirements for banks, ensuring that the government can take over failing institutions, and protecting consumers and investors.

There will be more regulation of hedge funds, securitised debts and over-the-counter derivatives, all of which have been blamed for exacerbating the financial crisis.

It will also aim to give shareholders more power to question executive bonuses.

"We want to make sure we are getting the best possible system in place, so that we are not repeating the mistakes of the past," President Obama said on Tuesday.

The reforms will also fullfil the commitments made by the US at the G20 summit in London to join in the worldwide effort to toughen financial regulation.

The reforms will enhance the power of the Federal Reserve to supervise and ultimately order the takeover of any financial institution in trouble.

It was the inability of the US government to take over Lehman Brothers that threw the financial markets into turmoil in September last year.

However, the Obama administration has backed away from earlier plans to create a single regulator, with the Fed sharing responsibility with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which regulates smaller community banks, and the Treasury.

But one regulator, the Office of Thrift Supervision, will be abolished.

Instead, there will be a new council of regulators, the Financial Services Oversight Council, which will co-ordinate the supervision of the banking system.

And the Fed will lose some of its powers to a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency which will regulate mortgages, credit cards, and savings products.

The proposals for regulatory reform could face significant opposition in Congress.

Mr Obama said he expected Congress to "work swiftly to get these laws into place", but warned that his plans would be a "heavy lift" because they faced opposition from "special interests".

The US Chambers of Commerce, a business lobbying group, has already said it opposes key parts of the reform.

And many Democrats are sceptical of giving more powers to the Fed, whose unelected chairman, Ben Bernanke, is a Republican appointed by President Bush.

The influential chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Christopher Dodd, has favoured the creation of a new consolidated bank regulator to replace the Fed and other agencies.

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