Susan Antilla writes: It isn’t every day that a reporter gets to sit in on a high-stakes policy meeting in New York’s financial district, but that’s exactly what I did on a balmy evening in late February at 60 Wall Street, the U.S. headquarters of Deutsche Bank AG.
No, the bank didn’t lose its institutional marbles and give me clearance to scribble notes while its cognoscenti mapped out corporate strategy. The confab I dropped in on was taking place under potted palm trees in the bank’s ground-floor public atrium, and the participants were 13 members of Occupy the SEC, a spinoff group of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I can’t help but conclude that their plans for petitions, marches, op-eds and sit-down meetings with banking regulators will be inflicting Wall Street with a long, nasty attack of agita.
Occupy Wall Street and its working groups, including Occupy the SEC, were supposed to be dead, in case you missed the obituaries. Now the protesters are messing with detractors’ heads with the emergence of a media-savvy collection of legal, banking and activist members who come off as sane and authoritative. This is not the way the Occupy bashers’ “welfare-bum hippies” propaganda script was supposed to play out.
On Feb. 13, seven writers who described themselves as “concerned citizens, activists and financial professionals” filed a 325-page comment letter to financial regulators, outlining their concerns about loopholes in the “Let’s Try to Avoid the Next Financial Crisis” proposal known as the Volcker rule.
It was among the longest and most detailed of 16,000 letters sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency during the public-comment period.
We may call it a “public” comment period, but in the real world it is deep-pocketed business interests, not Mom and Pop, who usually have the juice to persuade officials to amend financial regulations. It’s no surprise that Wall Street has been working furiously to dilute the rule’s restrictions on how banks trade and what investments they can own, and the industry has a heap of comment letters on the Volcker rule to show for it.
This time, though, there is a noisy voice plugging for the little guy, and it carries weight that these rabble-rousers understand the banking industry from the inside.
Or, as Occupy the SEC member Alexis Goldstein — who has worked at Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank — explained the group’s line-by-line analysis of the Volcker Rule to me: “We’d say ‘OK, I’m a bank, so how am I gonna get around this rule?’”
Even veteran activists who advocate regularly for the public were wowed. “They understood the nonsense in the proposed rule,” said Bartlett Naylor, financial policy counsel at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. Public Citizen, which also wrote a Volcker comment letter, was “humbled” by the Occupy effort, Naylor said. [Continue reading…]