Given the stock market performance during President Barack Obama’s first term—stocks are up by about 70 percent since his inauguration—it might have surprised many observers to see Wall Street investing heavily to replace the incumbent with his Republican rival.
But it became clear that even the relatively modest regulatory reforms proposed under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which fell far short of what many consumer advocates and economists would have liked, were troublesome enough to make many in the financial services sector forget the depths to which the economy had sunk under the previous presidency.
And there’s no question that many Wall Street bankers felt that they got a pretty poor return on the estimated $400 million they spent to defeat the President.
“The financial services industry had its Waterloo moment on November 6,” says Kenny Juarez, managing director of the corporate practice at Burson-Marsteller. “Whatever hopes the industry had that a Romney victory would spur regulators to rollback certain parts of Dodd-Frank or at least soften the impact of some of its provisions like the Volker rule have likely been crushed. The new normal is here to stay.”
Jen Prosek, who heads New York area financial and professional services specialist Prosek Partners, agrees. "President Obama's reelection will undoubtedly have an effect on the financial sector. If the last four years are any indication, we can expect further financial regulation and industry consolidation.”
Having said that, many of the rules contained in Dodd-Frank, including those related to the Volker rule (which would prevent banks from making proprietary trades with taxpayer-insured capital) have yet to be ratified.
“While the administration focuses on implementing the Dodd Frank Act—only about one-third of the nearly 400 rules required under the law have been finalized—the 113th Congress will likely focus on passing ‘technical corrections’ legislation that addresses concerns (such as international implications and other unintended consequences) that the original law may have failed to take into account,” say Howard Opinsky and Claire Koeneman of Hill+Knowlton Strategies.
“These technical corrections will aim to fortify rules to withstand legal scrutiny. Technical corrections will also seek to protect community banks, a favored constituency of both parties, from burdensome regulation and added compliance costs.”
But they say a major rewrite is unlikely given the Obama administration’s “continued view that tighter regulation of the financial-services sector is needed to prevent what it believes caused the meltdown that threatened the world’s financial institutions in 2008. But the 113th Congress could see continued strong debate on provisions intended to end the government’s ‘Too Big to Fail’ policy.”
If the reelection of President Obama was a disappointment for the financial services sector, the election to the Senate of Elizabeth Warren, architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau— created under Dodd-Frank to address so-called predatory lending practices within the financial services industry—was an even more bitter pill.
“With the election of Elizabeth Warren as the junior Senator from Massachusetts, the Democrats’ push to empower the CFPB has likely gained a powerful advocate,” Opinsky and Koeneman say. “Warren’s previous work to help establish the CFPB will make her a natural fit to join the Senate Banking Committee and she will certainly be committed to ensuring the CFPB is armed with significant authority to pursue aggressive measures against any ‘abusive’ practices in the financial services industry.”
The Hill+Knolwton pair also anticipate that the Commodity Futures Trade Commission will likely push for greater transparency in the credit default swap/derivatives trading market and to implement new reporting requirements for swap transaction data.
The bottom line is that there will be plenty of work for public relations firms specializing in the financial sector.
“This should create new opportunities for the communications industry, as financial services companies will need to expand or repair their reputations as they interact with new audiences while keeping existing constituencies informed,” says Prosek. “Hedge funds, for example, are still very very new to external communications and marketing, providing an emerging market for communications agencies to serve."
Adds Juarez: “Financial services firms that may have delayed making hard decisions because of regulatory uncertainty will now move forward. For some this will mean retrenchment and divestitures, while others will see this as an opportune time to grow their business. These decisions will call for expert financial communications advice to present the business case effectively to the financial community. We are already seeing an uptick in demand for strategic guidance in this area and we expect 2013 will bring further activity in this area of our business.”