Trump takes aim at Dodd-Frank
President Trump on Friday took the first step toward unwinding Wall Street reforms put in place during the depths of the financial crisis, sparking outrage from consumer groups across the country.
After a meeting with business executives, including the head of JP Morgan Chase & Co. and private equity giant Blackstone Group, Trump signed an executive order launching a sweeping Treasury Department review of the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation, with an eye toward overhauling the law. He also signed off on postponing a recent rule that requires financial advisers to act in the best interest of their clients when giving retirement advice.
The moves fulfill Trump’s campaign promises to scuttle the financial regulatory legacy of the Obama administration, which moved to rein in risky Wall Street behavior and bolster consumer protections after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Trump has asserted that the rules stifle economic growth, as he’s embraced many of the financiers and financial institutions that have been in the regulatory crosshairs in recent years, including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
Goldman, in particular, which Trump scorned during his campaign, has now sent several alumni to his administration, including the nominee for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.
“We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank,’’ Trump said during a meeting with business leaders Friday morning. ‘‘Because frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, that had nice businesses, they just can’t borrow money . . . because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.’’
Bank stocks were up by more than 2 percent Friday on news of Trump’s executive action.
The response from Democratic legislators, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and consumer advocates, was swift and sharp. Warren blasted Trump as a hypocrite who campaigned as a defender of working Americans but, she said, is now trying to roll back rules that protect everyday consumers.
“The Wall St bankers may be popping champagne, but Americans haven’t forgotten the 2008 financial crisis — and they won’t forget today,” Warren tweeted Friday.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees the securities industry in the state, called Trump’s delay of the fiduciary rule, which requires financial advisers to act in the best interest of their clients, not their own financial interest, “reckless.”
“It is ironic that this administration that presents itself as championing the little guy took less than two weeks to strike down one of the most significant investor protection provisions,” Galvin said in a statement.
Banks and investment firms Friday were careful to avoid celebrating just yet.
Banks and their lobbyists have been complaining for years that regulation is hampering lending, economic growth, and their bottom lines. Nonetheless, the number of banks that lost money in the third quarter of 2016 were the fewest since 1997; overall, bank profits were up by 13 percent from the year before; and annual loan growth is back to about 2007 levels, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Still, smaller banks in particular are feeling the squeeze of regulation, and many are merging with competitors, in part to spread the costs of new rules, said Dan Forte, president of the Massachusetts Bankers Association.
Policy makers should ease some of these requirements on small banks, Forte said.
“We’re not about to go down to Washington and say we want to eliminate Dodd-Frank. There are some good provisions that were necessary,” Forte said. “But where are some modest suggestions that we could look at?”
For instance, rules requiring regional banks to keep the same levels of capital as the largest institutions in the country should be changed, Forte said.
Former Massachusetts representative Barney Frank, who cosponsored the financial reform legislation along with then-senator Christopher Dodd, said the order signals Trump’s intent, but gutting the law in Congress would probably be difficult and take a long time.
More likely, Trump’s appointments for the various agencies that oversee financial regulations will weakly enforce the regulations, Frank said.
“It’s a charter to weaken the regulation,” he said of the executive order.
The Republican Congress and the administration will probably target certain aspects of the law, particularly the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau has gone after banks, payday lenders, and mortgage companies and collected billions of dollars in fines from financial institutions.
Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration have indicated, in particular, that they want to change the leadership of the agency and could try to limit its funding. A recent federal court ruling also found that the CFPB’s structure, with a director who could only be fired for cause by the president, was unconstitutional.
“They will probably try to change funding for CFPB and make it subject to appropriation, which could dramatically curb [its] boldness,” said James Segel, who worked as special counsel to Frank during the financial crisis.
The changes to the Department of Labor’s so-called fiduciary rule will probably happen more quickly. The changes were scheduled to go into effect in April but have been delayed.
They’re aimed at cutting back on incentives companies offered agents to sell clients higher-priced and riskier investments, such as vacations to Ireland and South Africa and iPads and sports tickets.
Many investment firms have already started to change their products and fee structures to comply with the rule.
However, Boston-based Fidelity Investments, which was a vocal opponent of the new fiduciary rule, said the delay makes sense.
“Fidelity remains committed to putting the needs of our customers first and is fully prepared to be compliant with the rule if and when it becomes effective,” the company said in a statement.
“We feel a delay affords policy makers an important opportunity to consider changes to the rules that allow for more choice and best serve retirement savers.”