This is the first article in an eight-part series.
In 1991, I had the privilege of serving as a Russian interpreter for Paul Volcker, Henry Kissinger and Russia's foreign secretary at a Federal Reserve dinner hosting Boris Yeltsin, the then-president of the Republic of Russia. As a new member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's foreign exchange group, it was the first opportunity that I had to witness Volcker's incredibly brilliant mind at work.
Nearly two decades later, in 2009, Volcker proposed that banks be banned from proprietary trading and investments in hedge funds and equity. I was not surprised that it was he who would propose a way to protect U.S. taxpayers from the excesses of Wall Street. But I doubt that even Volcker could have envisioned how politicians, bank lobbyists, and regulators would turn his good intentions into one of the most complex regulatory rules ever written.
After a series of Congressional hearings on the Volcker Rule earlier this year, I argued that it would be impossible for banks to comply with the rule in a timely and accurate manner given its complexity. Since then, I have discussed the rule at length with a wide range of information technology professionals, auditors, compliance officers, and risk managers at banks, along with regulators and lawyers who are all involved in implementation of the rule or its enforcement. Unfortunately, nine months of hearing their first-hand accounts has further convinced me of the insurmountable difficulties of complying with and enforcing this rule.
Due to the size of their securities and derivatives transactions, the banks most affected by the Volcker Rule include Bank of America, Citigroup, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley. The rule has already forced these banks to rethink their business strategies and to invest millions to create strong Volcker Rule compliance programs. The rule will undoubtedly require much more extensive documentation and regulatory reporting than the banks have ever been accustomed to.
Indeed, banks headquartered in the U.S. as well as foreign bank organizations will encounter significant hurdles in complying with this key Dodd-Frank requirement by the set deadlines: July 2015 for banks with over $25 billion in assets and December 2016 for banks under $25 billion.
Given big banks' problems monitoring their counterparties, lack of credible living wills, occasional failed stress tests and regulatory reporting challenges, I would be shocked if any of them can comply with the Volcker Rule by 2015. The rule is very demanding in its requirements for board and chief executive accountability, data collection and validation, quantitative metrics and compliance programs. The fact that banking lobbies have already asked for extensions on several parts of the rule only reinforces my view.
Moreover, given banks' significant operational risk management challenges, bank regulators should not trust that Volcker Rule quantitative metrics are being calculated with quality data. U.S. banks over $50 billion have already begun reporting the quantitative metrics as of September. But just a few weeks ago, a compliance officer at a foreign bank with a significant presence in the U.S. told me that despite best intentions, "banks are struggling to collect the reliable data at the granular level that the Volcker Rule now requires, often because of their outdated systems." The compliance professional also mentioned that a "silo mentality" at the foreign bank made employees reluctant to share the much-needed data and information that is necessary to create strong Volcker Rule compliance programs.
In the following seven articles, I will share the findings that have led me to conclude that implementing the Volcker Rule is likely to be a fool's errand. The first four articles series will cover the challenges in implementing the Volcker rule arising from people, processes, technology and external events. The two articles thereafter will focus on how the Volcker Rule is impacting foreign bank organizations and the collateralized loan obligations market. The final article in the series will discuss regulators' ability and willingness to enforce and supervise such a complex rule. This series will reveal a disheartening verdict: despite Volcker's laudable goal, banks will not end up doing much to sufficiently reduce their risks and protect U.S. taxpayers. And all five regulators risk wasting a lot of time trying to enforce the unenforceable.
Mayra Rodríguez Valladares is managing principal at MRV Associates, a New York-based capital markets and financial regulatory consulting and training firm. She is also a faculty member at Financial Markets World and The New York Institute of Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @MRVAssociates.