Last Friday, President Donald Trump issued a memorandum to the Secretary of Labor regarding potential changes to the Fiduciary Duty Rule and an executive order outlining standards for regulation of the country’s financial system which might roll back parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. Treasury Secretary nominee and former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin ’85 and Blackstone CEO and Trump economic advisor Stephen Schwarzman ’69, both men who could play significant roles in helping shape these orders, have both previously backed reversing parts of the act.
In the order, Trump established “core principles” with which his administration will regulate the country’s financial system, including “[making] regulation efficient, effective and appropriately tailored,” “[restoring] public accountability within Federal financial regulatory agencies” and “[rationalizing] the Federal financial regulatory framework.” Trump’s same day memorandum required that the Labor Department examine the Fiduciary Duty Rule, which classifies certain investment advice as fiduciary advice, thereby requiring that financial advisors’ give guidance that is in their client’s “best interest.”
Although neither action altered any existing policy as of yet, they align with Trump’s goal to reverse parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which increased regulations on the financial sector after the 2008 financial crisis.
“We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can’t borrow money,” Trump said during a meeting with business leaders on Feb. 3, according to The New York Times. “They just can’t get any money because the banks won’t let them borrow it because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.”
The executive order also required the Secretary of the Treasury to confer with the Financial Stability Oversight Council to investigate the extent to which already existing laws and other regulations promote the principles established in the first section of the order. Within 120 days, the Secretary of the Treasury is to report all current regulatory policies inconsistent with the “core principles” to Trump.
Last November, Mnuchin told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that reversing parts of the Dodd-Frank Act would be a top priority if he is confirmed. Mnuchin added that his experience in the private financial sector had given him a firsthand perspective of the act’s effects and flaws.
Schwarzman, who chairs the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum, has also voiced his opposition to Dodd-Frank and similar acts. In a 2015 Wall Street Journal article, Schwarzman argued that current regulations on the financial sector have reduced liquidity in banks’ trading markets and would eventually cause banks to “reduce assets and hoard liquidity,” thereby causing a financial crisis as banks would loan less to customers.
“It is five years since Dodd-Frank became law, and time for a fresh look at its impact. We need a holistic regulatory review of the cumulative effect of post-crisis capital, liquidity and trading rules,” Schwarzman wrote.
Yale professor Andrew Metrick, who teaches the course “Financial Crises,” believes that the action to reverse the Fiduciary Duty Rule, in particular, is a mistake.
According to Metrick, some argue against the rule by claiming that it gives investors less choice in investment plans, but he believes that this reasoning is “very flimsy.” Metrick added that as a finance professor, he has only low-cost options in his retirement plan but has found that some relatives have been advised to choose plans with no low-cost options. While some think that high-cost options are better for some individuals, this idea is not backed by any evidence, Metrick said.
“The idea that there could be anyone giving financial advice that didn’t have to act as your fiduciary is kind of nuts. It seems like an accident of history that that was ever the case,” Metrick said.
Metrick responded negatively to National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn’s objections to Dodd-Frank. According to Metrick, Cohn views the current regulations as nonsensical guidelines that would only come into play if the industry reached another crisis.
Cohn currently serves also as the chief economic advisor to Trump and was a major player during the 2008 financial crisis as the president of Goldman Sachs — one of the main banks embroiled in the events leading up to the market’s collapse.
“In my view, either [Cohn] knows what he’s saying is wrong, which would be bad, or he doesn’t know what he’s saying is wrong, which might be worse. Because he’s wrong,” Metrick said. “It’s not the intention of these things to crack these books open when you’re actually bankrupt but rather we want to understand your business to figure out how to regulate it.”