Flavor of the Week

The financial crisis has seen its share of catchphrases. The rotating cast has included a "tsunami of foreclosures," which produced "toxic assets" and in turn "zombie banks." And as policymakers have sought solutions, they stress there are no "silver bullets."

The newest: "plain vanilla" to describe the type of products a new consumer protection agency proposed by the administration would encourage financial institutions offer.

"We need to … authorize one agency to encourage and help develop some plain-vanilla, safe-harbor mortgages, credit cards, car loans and the like that will automatically pass regulatory muster," Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, sometimes mentioned as a possible head of the new agency, said in congressional testimony last month.

But even lawmakers poked fun at the term last week. At a House Financial Services Committee hearing Wednesday, Chairman Barney Frank joked that he would like to hold an essay contest to receive feedback on the administration's regulatory reform plans.

Later, Rep. Spencer Bachus, the panel's top Republican, responded: "The chairman invited you to submit essays, and I would simply say to you they need to be plain-vanilla essays, and if they are not, you need to get Elizabeth Warren's OK before you submit them."

Humor for Hire

Who couldn't use some laughter these days? As banks keep failing and the government keeps bailing, levity is in great demand.

Just ask the Treasury Department. The agency is seeking to hire a contractor in its Bureau of Public Debt to conduct humor workshops to boost staff morale.

Potential candidates wouldn't have to fuss with capital infusions or setting prices for illiquid securities. Instead, the person must know "how to use talents in a creative way that adds humor to everyday experiences," and "prevent burnout," according to the job posting.

Next Question

Treasury official Michael Barr had more than his share of grilling last week.

The administration's point man on the proposed regulatory overhaul was something of a punching bag at Tuesday's Senate Banking Committee hearing, where senators pressed him about the plan's most contentious item: a new consumer financial protection agency.

The reviews were not glowing, as his testimony left many questions about the agency unanswered.

Barr delivered an arguably savvier performance the next day at the Exchequer Club, where questioners included the never-shy consultant Bert Ely, who offered this whopper: Will the administration veto the bill creating the new agency if it exempts credit unions?

Barr dodged that one with this response: "I think this is a time I'd say: Do I look that stupid?"

Tally One for Dodd

Every vote clearly counts as Sen. Chris Dodd faces a tight re-election battle.

The Connecticut Democrat and Senate Banking Committee chairman can now likely count on his constituent Thomas Perretta, whom he invited to testify along with top servicers at a hearing Thursday about the lack of progress on loan modifications.

Perretta's appearance follows a tradition of panel chairmen — especially those in closely contested campaigns — inviting ordinary people from their home states to hearings. He told the committee of his financial and personal troubles, including the recent death of his wife. He also said he had received little help from JPMorgan Chase & Co. in restructuring his mortgage. (The company did not have a representative testifying at this hearing.)

"It seemed that Chase did not realize that people like me, who have just had an overwhelming event in their life, may still be" among the "honest, responsible human beings who need help," Perretta said.

Promotion at OCC

The Office of Comptroller of the Currency has named Kathy Murphy its chief accountant.

She will be responsible for the OCC's oversight of bank auditing and financial reporting, and provide accounting counsel to examiners.

Murphy has been the OCC's deputy chief accountant for the past four years. She joined the OCC in 2002 after working as a public accountant with two large firms. She succeeds Zane Blackburn, who recently retired after 28 years in the job.

By Stacy Kaper and Cheyenne Hopkins

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.