The Treasury Department is late getting ahead of the curve.

The department was supposed to report to Congress Dec. 29 on the future of the U.S. financial services industry. But the department missed its deadline, and there are no signs that its agenda-setting study will be ready anytime soon.

The report was mandated by the 1994 interstate banking act, as was the appointment of a panel of outside advisers to help the government gaze into the financial services future.

That advisory panel did not hold its first meeting until August and has met only once since then. In addition, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin has been preoccupied by working to keep the government afloat during the budget impasse between the White House and Congress.

Treasury officials were not available Tuesday for comment on their efforts to complete the report. But there is not much pressure to finish it since Congress isn't expected to tackle wide-ranging financial services legislation this year.

In August, Mr. Rubin said the study would help government officials prepare for the future by considering how the U.S. economy will be altered by consolidation, new technologies, elimination of barriers between financial industries, and a host of other changes.

"Our challenge is to understand the framework of financial services in the coming years - where they are headed and in what form," he said. That outline will help Congress and regulators "get ahead of the curve," he said.

The advisers appointed by President Clinton include former Comptroller of the Currency John G. Heimann, Franklin D. Raines, vice chairman of Fannie Mae, and Clyde W. Ostler, vice chairman of Wells Fargo.

Despite the high-powered advice, the final report is expected to be primarily Treasury's vision.

Mr. Rubin said in August that the study would tackle the impact of bank mergers, the fate of locally owned banks, the future of financial services in small towns, and prospects for small-business lending.

Other topics: the effect of international capital markets, the impact of higher interest rates abroad, electronic banking, and financial services for the poor.

The report is not expected to recommend specific legislative or regulatory changes, but rather offer a general sketch of where the financial services industry is headed and the resulting public policy issues.

By taking a broad look at changes in financial services, Congress and regulators will get a chance to prepare for the future in a "noncrisis environment," Rubin said. "We have an important opportunity in this study to step back and take the long view."

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