Major Bank CEO Slams Wall Street For Paying Big Bonuses And Fighting New Regulations

M&T Bank CEO Robert Wilmers

Ever since the Dodd-Frank financial reform law was signed by President Obama in 2010, the financial industry has been trying to delay, change, and otherwise obstruct it, claiming that its costs are too high or that it puts U.S. banks at a competitive disadvantage. One of the highest profile targets has been the Volcker rule, which is meant to prevent banks from trading for their own benefit with federally insured dollars.

For instance, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who runs the biggest bank in the U.S., has taken issue with the rule (while admitting he hasn’t read it all). But not all big banks are opposed to the regulation. Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal flagged a missive from M&T Bank CEO Robert Wilmers, in which he criticized big banks for “a pattern of investing in areas where they possessed little knowledge.” He went on to criticize large bank bonuses and to chastise Wall Street for lobbying against the Volcker rule:

Public cynicism about the major banks has been further reinforced by the salaries of their top executives, in large part fueled not by lending but by trading. At a time when the American economy is stuck in the doldrums and so many are unemployed or under-employed, the average compensation for the chief executives of four of the six largest banks in 2010 was $17.3 million – more than 262 times that of the average American worker. One bank with 33,000 employees earned a 3.7% return on common equity in 2011, yet its employees received an average compensation of $367,000 – more than five times that of the average U.S. worker. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the public would judge the banking industry harshly – and view Wall Street’s executives and their intentions with skepticism.

Nor can one say with any confidence that we have seen a fundamental change in the big bank business approach which helped lead us into crisis and scandal. The Wall Street banks continue to fight against regulation that would limit their capacity to trade for their own accounts – while enjoying the backing of deposit insurance – and thus seek to keep in place a system which puts taxpayers at high risk. In 2011, the six largest banks spent $31.5 million on lobbying activities. All told, the six firms employed 234 registered lobbyists.

Willmers, who oversees the 29th largest bank in the U.S. with $77 billion in assets, is surely no huge fan of Dodd-Frank, and he heaps disproportionate blame for the financial crisis onto government backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But his critique of Wall Street banks is spot-on, as is his assessment of the financial industry’s tarnished image. According to a Stanford University study, the number of Americans with hardly any confidence in the banking sector is at an all-time high.