By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
By Rob Cox
The author is a Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Nine years ago, Breakingviews proposed an “extreme idea” to Citigroup’s then-leader Charles Prince. The $240 billion New York bank’s market capitalization was lower than the worth of its parts valued separately. By splitting into three separate units, the idea was, Prince could hand shareholders an extra $50 billion or so, the equivalent of one entire U.S. Bancorp at the time.
Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, once famously said he believed banks were doing “God’s work.” Now, the Netherlands is going one step further: starting later this year, all 90,000 Dutch bankers will have to swear an oath that they’ll do their “utmost to maintain and promote confidence in the financial-services industry. So help me God.”
Half a decade has passed since the financial crisis, and yet the behemoth banks that caused economic chaos remain much as they were before – influential, opaque and potentially dangerous. It doesn’t have to be this way. Radical transparency could not only boost the industry, it could safeguard the economy. Forget “mark to market” and quarterly filings. Require every bank to report the value of its assets and liabilities on a daily basis. Don’t believe it can’t be done. Realize that it must be.
Big banks — at least in Europe — are putting on a new, highly branded, and more contrite face. Barclays is embarking on something it calls “Project Transform”’; Deutsche Bank has announced its “2015+” strategy and is pushing for what its CEO has called “deliberate” “uncomfortable change”. UBS has its own 2015 strategy, and the head of its investment banking unit publicly proclaimed that the industry has become “too arrogant, too self-convinced”.
A year ago the federal government and 49 states completed a $25 billion agreement with the nation’s largest mortgage servicers to settle claims of “robo-signing” and unlawful foreclosure practices. President Barack Obama announced the creation of the federal-state mortgage securities working group in his 2012 State of the Union address. The nation seemed on the verge of transforming the way banks treat struggling homeowners ‑ particularly those with “underwater” mortgages, in which a homeowner owes more than the house is worth.