Those hoping to see a final Volcker Rule by yearend should consider bracing for disappointment and another blown deadline.
That was the implicit warning Tuesday from Mary Jo White, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and one of the regulators in charge of hammering out the final rule, which would ban proprietary trading and restrict bank investments in hedge funds.
"I don't want to be pinned down," White told a financial conference audience on Tuesday, when asked about the Volcker rule's widely-anticipated year-end delivery date. The most assurance she would give was that the final regulation would be ready "maybe by the end of the year."
Regulators have spent more than three years trying to finalize the Volcker provision, a part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that was named for former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker. The rule is loathed by big banks, which have already sold or shuttered many profitable units in order to comply with the expected restrictions on their trading activities.
But the lack of a clearly defined rule, three and a half years after Dodd-Frank was signed into law and two years after an initial version of the rule was proposed, has created its own problems. Bank industry members worry about the challenges of "uncertainty" and doing business without clearly defined regulations, as well as a potentially tight turnaround to implement whatever the final Volcker restrictions will be; the deadline for compliance is currently July 2014, although banks do not yet know precisely what they will have to comply with.
Meanwhile, regulators and lawmakers have seen the reforms promised by Dodd-Frank waste away into endless and embarrassing bureaucratic processes. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has pressured regulators to finalize the Volcker rule this year, and it has been widely reported that officials expect to vote on the regulation next month. It must be approved by the SEC, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
But White, speaking Tuesday morning at the annual meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, resisted several requests to confirm that timeline. She attributed the year-end deadline to comments made by other regulators, including Federal Reserve Board Governor Daniel Tarullo, but said that the inter-agency approval process might be more complicated and time-consuming.
"We've been working flat-out to get it done as quickly as we can," White said, but "obviously we want to do it right as well, and the complexities make it difficult."
White is also facing potential dissension within her own ranks; SEC Commissioners Michael Piwowar and Dan Gallagher have said that they will not vote in favor of a final rule unless it is re-proposed, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. The regulation will require approval by at least three of the five SEC Commissioners, including White.