Bank Watch

As candidates go after Wall Street, Moynihan says banks must ‘keep our noses clean’

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan says the financial sector must keep “driving people out who are doing the wrong things.” The sector has been under attack by presidential candidates for both parties.
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan says the financial sector must keep “driving people out who are doing the wrong things.” The sector has been under attack by presidential candidates for both parties. jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan says big banks have improved their practices and are better positioned to weather another economic downturn, even as presidential candidates from both parties are taking aim at the financial sector.

The head of the Charlotte-based bank discussed the topic Tuesday during a banking conference in New York after an attendee asked him a question about the candidates’ attacks.

“It’s just going to take us continuing to keep our noses clean … enforcing the cultural change that we brought to the industry and driving people out who are doing the wrong things,” Moynihan said.

The financial sector has been a recurring theme in the presidential race, featuring in debates for both parties. For example, earlier this month, candidates in the fourth GOP debate sparred over whether banks should get government bailouts.

In that debate, Bank of America’s name came up when a moderator asked about bailing out big banks. In response, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he would not bail out Bank of America if it were on the verge of failing.

Moynihan, whose bank has repaid its $45 billion bailout, said the financial sector has been “under intense regulatory review and supervision, as they should be,” since the financial crisis.

Today, Moynihan said, “the company’s assets and capabilities are used for the real economy.”

“If you think about the criticism of the industry out of the crisis (it) was we did things for ourselves, not for the real economy,” he said. “We were so complex. We had a variety of participants, some of whom were regulated, some of whom weren’t. You didn’t have enough capital.”

Since the crisis, big banks must comply with new federal requirements designed to make them more likely to survive another downturn and to prevent risky practices that could trigger one.

Moynihan cited some of those requirements, including “stress tests” – annual exams by regulators to determine how capital levels of the biggest banks would fare in a crisis.

“Basically, 10 years ago our capital was about one-third the size that it is today,” Moynihan said.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has called for breaking up big banks, and Hillary Clinton has said she would “go after executives” for behavior that harms the larger economy.

Moynihan said one area of concern is the so-called shadow banking system, a term for financial institutions that act like banks but are not subject to the same regulations as traditional banks. Hedge funds are often cited as an example. Regulators have been keeping a close eye on the growth of such companies.

Currently, shadow banking companies aren’t large enough players to pose risks to the financial industry as a whole, but that could change, Moynihan said.

“At the size they’re at now, I don’t think it would have an impact,” he said. “At the margins, it would hurt the economy, but it won’t have an impact on the financial services industry. If they grow to be a significant part, that could happen.”

“So I’m worried about that.”

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts

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