WASHINGTON — The Office of Financial Research held its first advisory committee meeting on Wednesday, asking a range of industry participants how the agency can better collect and analyze financial data to detect systemic threats.
At the committee's day-long meeting, members of the Financial Advisory Council were introduced broadly to the purpose of the OFR, its priorities, and where Treasury officials are hoping financial participants can fill in critical gaps.
"Your guidance and advice in these efforts will be essential to our success," said Richard Berner, counselor to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and the president's nominee to be director of the OFR. "What data do you think we're missing? Is there low hanging fruit in data collection or standards that we've overlooked?"
The financial crisis revealed to policymakers deficiencies in their analytics and information. Regulators found they had underestimated the risks or hadn't fully understood the full extent of what a shock could do the financial system. Available data was often insufficiently granular, incomplete or untimely.
"The recent financial crisis provided dramatic evidence that our understanding of the financial system was deeply flawed and that the data necessary to monitor the system were not available when regulators and others really needed it in 2008, when our financial system and our economy came perilously close to collapse," said Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin in a speech at the meeting.
The OFR, which is an arm of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, is meant to correct those mistakes and aid regulators in heading off another systemic crisis by developing tools for risk measurement and conducting research on the evolution of the financial system. Its work is largely done in collaboration with the bank regulatory agencies that are members of the FSOC, including the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
"It's a big agenda," said Berner. "You can understand why we say we are running a three-legged race."
Among the 30 members of the Financial Advisory Committee who will help the OFR are Lewis Alexander, chief economist at Nomura, who helped to construct the agency; Ben Golub, chief risk officer for BlackRock; Donald Kohn, former vice chairman of the Fed and current fellow at the Brookings Institute; and Andrew Lo, a finance professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"We have assembled a distinguished team of world-class experts to advise the OFR, and we very much appreciate your service," said Wolin. "You bring a wealth of experience and knowledge and diverse perspectives that will help the OFR to look at difficult problems in new and innovative ways."
The agency, created by the Dodd-Frank Act, has been slow to get up and running, especially as the Senate has held up the Berner's nomination to serve as director of the OFR — a position Wolin called "crucial" to fulfilling. It has roughly 130 employees with office in D.C. and New York.
As part of its agenda, researchers at OFR are looking to identify threats to financial stability by asking questions like: "How is the financial system performing its task? Where are risk accumulating? Do policymakers and companies have sufficient data and information?" Jonathan Sokobin, acting deputy director of the research and analysis center and chief of analytical strategy said in a presentation to committee members.
His counterpart, Dessa Glasser, deputy director of the Data Center, stressed the importance of having clean, accurate data to work with to help the OFR achieve its goal. The Data Center works to acquire data it stores in a library that includes a database of financial companies, financial instruments, and other transactions. Using that data, OFR can potentially map out across markets various pieces of information in order to analyze a potential risk.
The OFR and FSOC plan to hold its second annual conference on Thursday to discuss challenges to financial stability as the activities continuously evolve, as well as recent changes to financial institutions, markets and activities.