September 27, 2014

REGULATORS ARE ALWAYS CAPTURED:

The Secret Goldman Sachs Tapes (Michael Lewis, 9/26/14, Bloomberg View)

Any Fed manager who read the Beim report, and who wanted to fix his institution, or merely cover his ass, would instantly have set out to hire strong-willed, independent-minded people who were willing to speak their minds, and set them loose on our financial sector. The Fed does not appear to have done this, at least not intentionally. But in late 2011, as those managers staffed up to take on the greater bank regulatory role given to them by the Dodd-Frank legislation, they hired a bunch of new people and one of them was a strong-willed, independent-minded woman named Carmen Segarra.

I've never met Segarra, but she comes across on the broadcast as a likable combination of good-humored and principled. "This American Life" also interviewed people who had worked with her, before she arrived at the Fed, who describe her as smart and occasionally blunt, but never unprofessional. She is obviously bright and inquisitive: speaks four languages, holds degrees from Harvard, Cornell and Columbia. She is also obviously knowledgeable: Before going to work at the Fed, she worked directly, and successfully, for the legal and compliance departments of big banks. She went to work for the Fed after the financial crisis, she says, only because she thought she had the ability to help the Fed to fix the system.

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.

(How Segarra got herself fired by the Fed is interesting. In 2012, Goldman was rebuked by a Delaware judge for its behavior during a corporate acquisition. Goldman had advised one energy company, El Paso Corp., as it sold itself to another energy company, Kinder Morgan, in which Goldman actually owned a $4 billion stake, and a Goldman banker had a big personal investment. The incident forced the Fed to ask Goldman to see its conflict of interest policy. It turned out that Goldman had no conflict of interest policy -- but when Segarra insisted on saying as much in her report, her bosses tried to get her to change her report. Under pressure, she finally agreed to change the language in her report, but she couldn't resist telling her boss that she wouldn't be changing her mind. Shortly after that encounter, she was fired.)





Posted by at September 27, 2014 5:12 AM
  

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