Leaders of some of the world's biggest banks met Thursday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to plot ways to reassert their influence with regulators and governments.
Chief executives, including Bank of America Corp.'s Brian Moynihan and UBS AG's Oswald Gruebel, convened one week after President Obama shocked financiers with plans that may force large banks to limit their size and curb investments in hedge funds and private equity.
The closed-door meeting, held down a hallway near the back entrance of the Davos conference center, aimed to prepare executives for another private meeting in Davos on Jan. 30 with top policymakers and regulators, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank.
"We're trying to figure out ways that we can be more engaged," Moynihan said in an interview after he left the meeting with about 30 financial CEOs. "Because, honestly, we were not considered to be the right kind of people to talk to for the ideas on how to fix this thing."
Moynihan said that much of the discussion was about tactics, such as who the executives should approach and when. He said the bankers were concerned that too much regulation could hamper economic growth and that conflicting national approaches need to be avoided.
"It was a positive meeting, we're in consensus," Gruebel said during a break in the three-hour session, declining to provide further details. "Global banks would like to have a level playing field, but regulators have a national view and politicians, too."
The attendees included Deutsche Bank AG CEO Josef Ackermann, Credit Suisse Group AG CEO Brady Dougan, Barclays PLC President Robert Diamond and HSBC Holdings PLC Chairman Stephen Green. Leaders of many industries hold private meetings at the World Economic Forum every year.
In a separate, private gathering next door, Rep. Frank spoke to about 50 investors, including Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. co-founder Henry Kravis, Carlyle Group Managing Director David M. Rubenstein and Third Point LLC CEO Daniel Loeb.
"The purpose of the meeting was to have a good sense of how do you develop good regulation at a time when there's so much friction in the market," said Jack Ehnes, the CEO of the California State Teachers' Retirement System, the second-biggest U.S. public pension fund, who attended the meeting.
Frank said after the session that he was going to "crack down" on hedge funds. He did not elaborate.
Two participants at the bank CEO meeting said that Obama's proposals did not dominate the discussion.
"It's a little hard to figure out exactly what the words mean, and that will be shaped over time," Moynihan said. He said B of A and some other banks have a "minimum" amount of profit and revenue derived from so-called proprietary trading and investments.
Executives interviewed after the meetings said they understand that new rules are inevitable and urged national regulators to coordinate through the Group of 20 or other international bodies.
Some executives said they think the biggest challenge for the industry is overcoming public anger about bonuses and compensation.
"When you talk to politicians, the big issue is pay, pay, pay," UBS' Gruebel said.
Even though the industry has taken steps to reform its pay practices, the public is not satisfied, he said.
"You can't say to anyone who's lost his job that we used to pay someone 10 million and now we're paying 1 million," Gruebel said.