Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bernanke Speaks on "After the Fall"

This week Ben Bernanke spoke in Chatham, Massachusetts on the role of the Federal Reserve after the crisis (See Bernanke Speech). Bernanke took the opportunity to observe the difference that a year makes in world finances, but urged (again) that with the crisis "abating" Congress must still act to prevent a future crisis of this severity.

We have seen numerous instances when weaknesses and gaps in the regulatory structure itself contributed to the crisis, many of which can only be addressed by statutory change. Notably, to promote financial stability and to address the extremely serious problem posed by firms perceived as "too big to fail," legislative action is needed to create new mechanisms for oversight of the financial system as a whole; to ensure that all systemically important financial firms are subject to effective consolidated supervision; and to establish procedures for winding down a failing, systemically critical institution without seriously damaging the financial system and the economy.
Bernanke went on to comment on a number of actions the Federal Reserve has taken and also to to take up the issue of consumer protection. Bernanke observed that "effective consumer protection promotes healthy competition in the financial marketplace, supports sound lending practices, and increases confidence in the financial system as a whole." Bernanke commented on the Fed's efforts using consumer testing to help determine when consumers understand financial products and communications from financial institutions. The Fed has used consumer testing in the debate involving debit cards, for instance. While no final regulations are yet in place for debit cards, the consumer testing tool may turn out to help the Fed tackle issues surrounding clarity of disclosures.

Bernanke has been hammering on the topic of needed regulatory changes for some time now. Let's hope that Congress is listening.


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