Trump is about to make big banks very happy

He promised not to let banks “get away with murder.” Now he’s going to grant many of their wishes.

Former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin, currently in the top running to lead Treasury. CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
Former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin, currently in the top running to lead Treasury. CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

As Donald Trump vied for the presidency, he claimed that he would go hard after Wall Street.

“I’m not going to let Wall Street get away with murder,” he told a crowd in Iowa in January. “Wall Street has caused tremendous problems for us.” He vowed to go after “hedge fund guys” and claimed that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was in thrall to banks’ power.

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But as he begins to shape his agenda and his Cabinet, his choices all signal that he will roll back regulations and put people who come straight from Wall Street in the halls of power.

‘Dismantle’ new rules meant to curb risky bank behavior

Early in his campaign for the presidency, Trump promised that he would “come close to dismantling” Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street reform legislative package that was passed in the wake of the crisis.

On his transition website, he pledges that his team “will be working to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act and replace it with new policies to encourage economic growth and job creation.”

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Some rules created by Dodd-Frank have already been implemented and would require legislation to roll back. For example, banks are now required to hold more of their own money in reserve as a cushion in case they start to fail, a measure intended to curb the risk of “Too Big To Fail” institutions. Similarly, some large banks have been designated “systemically important” to the entire financial system, meaning that if they were to falter, others could be put at risk. Those institutions have been put under stricter requirements.

Other rules are still in process, which Trump could stall or reverse. One, which is currently being implemented, would bar big banks from using customer deposits to make their own risky bets to boost profits. Another still rolling out would regulate derivatives trading, or trades made on price swings in commodities that were key in the downfall of institutions such as AIG.

Dodd-Frank also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency focused on protecting Americans from predatory and fraudulent bank behavior. It’s already recouped more than $10 billion for those who have been targeted by such practices. The CFPB has also written new rules for mortgage lending while extending oversight to some financial firms, such as debt collectors and payday lenders, that had previously gone with little oversight.

Trump could scrap the CFPB (as well along with the rest of Dodd-Frank). But he could also find a way to undermine the agency by changing its structure. Currently, it has a single director and funding from the Federal Reserve — an effort to keep its consumer protection efforts independent of Congress. Trump could push through changes to add more directors and give lawmakers more power over its operations.

Trump could also help to loosen bank regulation around the world, as those writing rules for international capital requirements are under intense industry pressure to use a light hand. The U.S. had pushed for strong regulation, but that could shift under President Trump and lead the way for other countries to back off.

Undo protections for retirees

Trump made a campaign promise to impose a moratorium on all new regulations for the financial sector, but he has already targeted existing regulations for immediate dismantling. Trump adviser and hedge fund investor Anthony Scaramucci promised to reverse President Obama’s executive action to protect retirees — the fiduciary duty rule. It requires all financial advisers to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own, rather than being able to steer clients toward more expensive options that make money for themselves. That conflicted advice is estimated to cost retirees $17 billion a year.

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“We’ve got to get rid of this,” Scaramucci told the Financial Times, calling it “unnecessary.” He had previously made this pledge while likening the rule to the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision that denied birthright citizenship to slaves and their descendants.

Scrapping the rule would line up nearly with the wishes of financial institutions, which have lobbied aggressively against it and praised House Republican efforts to get rid of it.

Appointments plucked straight from Wall Street

One of Trump’s most immediate tasks is to pick members of his Cabinet and assign other important roles and appointments. Already, some key picks will almost certainly come straight from finance.

According to Politico, his top two picks for Treasury Secretary are down to a former Goldman Sachs banker and current hedge fund CEO, Steve Mnuchin, and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross. Mnuchin is reportedly leading the running for the role and has already spoken out against Dodd-Frank.

Trump will also get an opportunity to make an appointment to an agency tasked directly with overseeing Wall Street: the Securities and Exchange Commission. Current SEC Chair Mary Jo White has announced that she will step down at the end of Obama’s tenure, as she had originally planned to do, leaving the role open for a Trump pick. He will likely be able to pick two other SEC officials in addition to the chair.

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Trump’s new SEC chair could help move along the plans to loosen rules and regulations for Wall Street, some of which it has been charged with implementing. The agency could also move to undo new rules for mutual funds and investment advisers that are set to be finalized just as White leaves. Those rules requiring more better reporting and aim to curb Wall-Street’s penchant for taking risks with investors’ money.