Thursday, 5 October 2023

Wall Street’s Top Banks Fined $53 Million in Regulatory Spanking

by Rose White

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Just over a decade ago, Wall Street banker Greg Smith published the book, “Why I Left Goldman Sachs,” widely excoriated for being short on details of wrongdoing and, quite possibly, nothing more than the parting gripes of a disgruntled one-percenter ticked off over his bonus.

Yet some parts of the book still resonate today – in particular, Smith’s description of Goldman’s shark-tank culture and his contention that the bank specifically targeted unsophisticated investors in order to part them with their money – infamously calling them “muppets.”

“Getting an unsophisticated client was the golden prize,” he said. “The quickest way to make money on Wall Street is to take the most sophisticated product and try to sell it to the least sophisticated client.”

This tradition seems to live on, as the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the nation’s derivatives market watchdog, slapped Goldman, along with JP Morgan and Bank of America, with $53 million of fines to settle charges of swap reporting failures and other violations. (Swaps, for the uninitiated, are derivatives contracts that encapsulate a wide range of investment agreements between multiple parties, but became extra-famous during the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009 when credit default swaps went awry and led to widespread bank failures and taxpayer-funded bailouts).

The CFTC singled out Goldman in particular in this latest round of fines, highlighting its “unprecedented failures regarding swap data reporting,” the bank’s failure to “diligently supervise a wide range of its swap dealer activities” and failing to disclose key information to counterparties on “more than one million occasions since 2013.”

As a result, the CFTC ordered Goldman to pay $30 million.

At the same time, JP Morgan and Bank of America were ordered to pay $15 million and $8 million, respectively, for swap reporting failures. But the agency aimed its greatest ire at Goldman for repeated infractions, demanding the bank draw up a written remediation plan and hire a consultant to advise it on how to prevent further violations.

One CFTC commissioner, Christy Goldsmith Romero, lambasted Goldman in a concurring statement for what she called “serious, pervasive and persistent” violations of the law, adding that the latest case is the fourth against Goldman in her 18-month tenure at the agency.

“Goldman has a long history of violating federal laws, getting caught, and then settling with federal agencies,” she said, noting that she is “significantly concerned” over the bank’s recurring offenses.

In a sign she sees no sign of the trend abating, she suggested the $30 million settlement “is not strong enough to achieve the goals of law enforcement, justice, accountability and deterrence.”

Unsophisticated Goldman clients be warned.