Connections between NY Fed and Wall Street (read Goldman) getting exposed

Over the weekend, some really interesting and scandalous story broke out. Propublica’s Jake Bernstein wrote this long article showing how the cosy relationship between NY Fed and Wall Street. As if this was anything new really. Michael Lewis adds more to the story.

The difference is Bernstein gets this former NY Fed  regulator Carmen Segarra to speak up. Segarra was an onsite supervisor a Goldman Sachs. Onsite regulators are those who actually sit in the office of the regulated entity. She was assigned Goldman Sachs and in act of bravado she taped her conversations while being in conversation with NY Fed and Goldman officials. The tapes show how NY Fed officials were just so afraid to ask Goldman to behave.

And this was after NY Fed actually appointed someone to sort its culture right. Lewis adds:

First, a bit of background — which you might get equally well from today’s broadcast as well as from this article by ProPublica. After the 2008 financial crisis, the New York Fed, now the chief U.S. bank regulator, commissioned a study of itself. This study, which the Fed also intended to keep to itself, set out to understand why the Fed hadn’t spotted the insane and destructive behavior inside the big banks, and stopped it before it got out of control. The “discussion draft” of the Fed’s internal study, led by a Columbia Business School professor and former banker named David Beim, was sent to the Fed on Aug. 18, 2009.

It’s an extraordinary document. There is not space here to do it justice, but the gist is this: The Fed failed to regulate the banks because it did not encourage its employees to ask questions, to speak their minds or to point out problems.

Just the opposite: The Fed encourages its employees to keep their heads down, to obey their managers and to appease the banks. That is, bank regulators failed to do their jobs properly not because they lacked the tools but because they were discouraged from using them.

The report quotes Fed employees saying things like, “until I know what my boss thinks I don’t want to tell you,” and “no one feels individually accountable for financial crisis mistakes because management is through consensus.” Beim was himself surprised that what he thought was going to be an investigation of financial failure was actually a story of cultural failure.

This led to hiring of new staff like Ms Segarra but the culture did not change:

In early 2012, Segarra was assigned to regulate Goldman Sachs, and so was installed inside Goldman. (The people who regulate banks for the Fed are physically stationed inside the banks.)

The job right from the start seems to have been different from what she had imagined: In meetings, Fed employees would defer to the Goldman people; if one of the Goldman people said something revealing or even alarming, the other Fed employees in the meeting would either ignore or downplay it. For instance, in one meeting a Goldman employee expressed the view that “once clients are wealthy enough certain consumer laws don’t apply to them.” After that meeting, Segarra turned to a fellow Fed regulator and said how surprised she was by that statement — to which the regulator replied, “You didn’t hear that.”

This sort of thing occurred often enough — Fed regulators denying what had been said in meetings, Fed managers asking her to alter minutes of meetings after the fact — that Segarra decided she needed to record what actually had been said. So she went to the Spy Store and bought a tiny tape recorder, then began to record her meetings at Goldman Sachs, until she was fired.

Some things never change. There is a reason why opponents of central banking push strongly to abolish not just Fed but other central banks. The central banks are one of the most spoilt regulators given how despite being public organisations they behave much like private ones. Other regulators just set broad guidelines but central banks are also one of the major players in their area of banking and finance. They influence and intervene in most financial markets and thus are much closer to the regulated than desired. The central bankers are also awarded/recognised highly by the entities they regulate. Post-retirement/exit, life is far easier for central bankers than other regulators with most getting cosy positions (openly/secretly) with the entities they once regulated. As public scrutiny has risen in recent times, central bankers are avoiding all these positions. But it is a matter of time.


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