As the Obama administration begins implementing new rules for Wall Street, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal S. Wolin Thursday told a Wharton School audience that the changes would ensure the nation of a "competitive, globally leading" financial system for years to come.
"These reforms will benefit American business and the American people," Wolin said in a speech at the University of Pennsylvania business school, "by providing a more stable source of financing for the investments and innovations that will drive economic growth in the years ahead."
Wolin was speaking of the changes wrought by Wall Street reform legislation that was passed and signed into law last month.
The new legislation is a 2,300-page overhaul of the regulatory network that oversees the nation's financial system. Designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 economic collapse, it imposes the stiffest restrictions on Wall Street since the Great Depression.
The legislation's intent now must be interpreted and implemented by various federal agencies with some level of oversight of the financial system.
"We will move quickly, but we will move carefully," Wolin said, speaking specifically of changes that will require financial institutions to hold more capital as a counterweight to more risky derivative trades.
"There will be a reasonable transition period, with three years to meet the new minimum requirements and an additional period to build up buffers beyond those minimums."
Wolin broadly outlined how the administration intended to move forward on four key areas of financial reform.
"First, consumer protection," he said, " . . . We will move quickly to give consumers simpler disclosures for credit cards, auto loans and mortgages, so that they can make better choices, borrow more responsibly, and compare costs."
The second area, he said, was reforming the housing finance system and government financial service corporations such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Wolin said that in the coming weeks the Treasury Department will host a conference on the future of housing finance. In part using input gathered at the conference, the administration expects to have a reform plan by early next year.
The third and fourth areas of concern are reforming the derivative markets and ensuring that the nation's largest financial institutions hold enough capital to balance risky trades.
"Getting this right is essential," he said. "We know that capital requirements must be raised. But we also know that if we set them too high too fast, we could hurt economic recovery or simply end up pushing risk outside of the regulated financial system."
Finally, Wolin acknowledged that there was not universal support for the reform effort.
"Some people will continue to claim - as they have over the past year - that these reforms will bring about the end of American enterprise," he said.
He reminded the audience that the same was said about many of the reforms enacted after the 1929 stock market crash.
"We all know how wrong those warnings were," he said.
" . . . Across America, millions of Americans still feel the pain of the economic downturn. But we are on the road to recovery. We are repairing the damage caused by the crisis. And by implementing financial reform, we are taking the hard but necessary steps to ensure that our financial system leads the world in this century, just as it did in the last."