WASHINGTON — Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan said Monday that given the current interest rate and regulatory environment, he wouldn't advise a group of investors to start a new bank.
"The idea of putting together money to start a bank … you are up against Bank of America, Wells [Fargo], and the great regional banks; I think it is very tough," Moynihan said here during an event sponsored by The Wall Street Journal.
While Moynihan said a lot of changes since the financial crisis were necessary, "when it got off track is when it became about us."
He noted that Bank of America has taken significant steps to build up its capital and liquidity levels to make the bank safer. But the regulators' demands have perhaps gone too far.
"The question then is over time, I think there will be people who will look at this and say, Is this insurance policy too large or too small?" Moynihan said. "The insurance policy right now is very strong in favor of safety and soundness and it should be, and then over time I think people will think it through."
"We could lend more money if the capital levels were different … the point is we can never have so much capital that we will never fail. That is where we are now," he said.
Moynihan offered support for community banks, arguing they should not have to endure the same level of regulation as larger institutions.
"The question is do you need all that regulation for these small enterprises and the answer is no, and … our view is take that away from those banks" because it is slowing down the economy, he said.
When asked how Bank of America has been able to weather the slow economy and build itself back up to profitability, Moynihan said the bank has had to reduce employee head count to shrink costs. Staffing has declined nearly 80,000 since he took over, Moynihan said.
His longer-run strategy, he said, is "more loans, more deposits working for all these types of clients and fees and taking the costs down."
He also defended the bank's massive size, saying claims that it would be better off broken up are misguided.
"We look at all the time and it doesn't make any sense, because it takes more capital and liquidity," he said.
During his discussion, Moynihan touched on how technology is changing banking and how some technologies like the distributed ledger might offer more promise than others.
"I think cryptocurrencies have difficulties that people figured out, but the methodology of distributed ledgers … those are very important things," he said. "They are not different ideas; it is just finding out a way to do things in a more efficient way."
One issue with the distributed ledger, he said, is that the technology cannot yet be verified all over the world instantaneously. "That is not there; it still takes time," he said. "There will be a time when that happens, and if you can get there, it creates a huge risk of what if it gets corrupted."
But, Moynihan added, "mobile technology is going to be the biggest" game changer, and artificial intelligence could also change banking.
"The thing that I don't know if we know exactly where it goes is the impact of artificial intelligence and where that drives middle management, whether it drives capabilities in companies," he said. "That will be fascinating."