Market Overview

Congress Grills Bank CEOs On Systemic Risks, Russia, Executive Compensation

Congress Grills Bank CEOs On Systemic Risks, Russia, Executive Compensation

For the first time since the financial crisis in 2008, the CEOs of the largest U.S. banks appeared before Congress on Wednesday to answer questions regarding the size and safety of America’s financial institutions.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, Bank of America Corp (NYSE: BAC) CEO Brian Moynihan and Citigroup Inc (NYSE: C) CEO Michael Corbat were among the group that answered questions.

Safer System

Across the board, the big bank CEOs said Americans are much safer from systemic risks than they were a decade ago.

“There is no doubt that the strength, stability and resiliency of the financial system has been fundamentally improved over the course of the last ten years,” Dimon said. “Post-crisis reforms have made banks much safer and sounder in three important areas: capital, liquidity and resolution and recovery.”

U.S. banks have added more than $800 billion in aggregate capital to help shore up the financial system. Banks are also now subject to annual stress tests and must get their capital return plans approved by the Federal Reserve.

In addition, most of the executives emphasized how their businesses are smaller in scope and fare less complex than they were back in 2008.

“Since the crisis, Citi has become a smaller, safer, stronger, and far less complex institution,” Corbat said.

Biggest Risks

When asked what is the biggest risk to the financial system today, the CEOs named cybersecurity, slowing economic growth, the growing non-banking segment of the financial industry and negative investor sentiment as the greatest threats. Dimon also said global competitiveness and lack of infrastructure spending are key headwinds for the U.S. economy.

So-called “shadow banks,” or unregulated financial technology companies that sell financial products, were also mentioned as risks. Many of these fintech companies are direct competitors to traditional banks.

Dimon said a big bank collapse like Lehman Brothers would never happen in today’s environment. However, he said unregulated non-bank mortgage lenders could pose a major threat.

Other Key Topics

The CEOs were also asked about potential Russian money laundering in their customers’ accounts after Deutsche Bank AG (NYSE: DB) paid a $630 million fine related to allegations of money laundering. The CEOs of Bank of America, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) all said they have reviewed account holders to attempt to identify suspicious activity. Moynahan and Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said they have not found any such activity, while Corbat said he is unable to comment on ongoing investigations.

Congress also grilled the bank CEOs for the pay gap between employees and executives. Bank of America announced this week it's raising its minimum wage to $20 per hour, but Corbat’s 2018 salary of $24 million was still more than 400 times the average wage of a Citigroup employee.

The executives were also asked about supporting a bill to restrict banks from manipulating the order in which debit transactions are charged to maximize overdraft fees. Dimon and Moynihan were the only two that said they would support such a bill.

Related Links:

IMF Cuts Global Growth Forecast

Moody's: Leveraged Loan Market Creating Risks For US Banks

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson, via Wikimedia Commons


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