Most people know the Federal Reserve for its highest profile job—conducting monetary policy. But it’s the Federal Reserve Board’s role as a regulatory agency that empowers it to write rules to govern banks and protect consumers’ financial transactions. In years past, the Federal Reserve has aimed to protect Americans in their financial dealings by implementing and enforcing laws such as the Truth in Lending Act and the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act.
Americans have been able to comment on proposed rules and regulations in the federal decision-making process for many years, but the rule-writing phase of the Dodd-Frank implementation provides an unusually significant opportunity for people to weigh in. Consider that the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was all of 31 pages long; the Dodd-Frank legislation was more than 2,000 pages. The impact of Dodd-Frank is wide and deep. It is safe to say this is the best opportunity for citizens to influence federal regulatory policy in generations.
The impact of Dodd-Frank is wide and deep. It is safe to say this is the best opportunity for citizens to influence federal regulatory policy in generations.
The Writing of a Regulation
Laws often do not include all of the details needed to explain how an individual, business, state or local government, or nonprofit might follow the law. To make laws practical on a day-to-day basis, Congress authorizes certain government agencies—including the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors—to create regulations.
New rules under Dodd-Frank will reach nearly every piece of the financial market apparatus. Among the key provisions:
- A Financial Stability Oversight Council, whose members include the Federal Reserve Chairman, Treasury Secretary, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation head, to monitor systemic risks
- Enhanced standards for all large bank holding companies—those with greater than $50 billion in assets—as well as certain nonbank financial firms (insurers such as AIG, for example)
- Greater transparency to the over-the-counter derivatives market; derivates include vehicles such as credit default swaps, a sort of insurance that was blamed for the buildup of risk that led to the financial crisis
- A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, funded by the Federal Reserve but operating independently, to administer consumer financial protection laws
And that’s just for starters. Other elements will reform the regulation of credit rating agencies and require registration by hedge fund managers with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The rule-writing phase of Dodd-Frank began in earnest early last fall. By the end of 2010, the Federal Reserve, sometimes jointly with other agencies, had already opened comments for seven proposals and initiated studies on several others. A study of the proposed Volcker Rule, for example, was launched with the Financial Stability Oversight Council to learn more about the impact of limiting the amount of proprietary trading-essentially, playing the market with their own money-that banks can do. In late December, the Board asked for comments on a rule to establish new standards on debit card interchange fees, trying to ensure that debit card transactions are reasonable and proportional to their costs.