Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

December 24, 2015

Wall Street Naughty List

By David Reiss

Damian Gadal

Law360 quoted me in Checks Needed For Naughty List To Improve Wall Street’s Rep. It reads, in part, 

Wall Street banks may back a push to create a central registry of employees who misbehave in a bid to improve internal culture at the country’s biggest banks, but worries about the accuracy of any potential list and other due process concerns have given some observers pause.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William F. Dudley has been advocating for the creation of such a central registry that can be used by banks when recruiting new talent as a way to make sure that serial rulebreakers are kept out of the biggest banks. And a readout of a meeting on bank culture with Wall Street bigwigs in November appear to show that the banks are getting behind the idea.

While creating such a central registry could go a long way toward preventing bad actors from engaging in future frauds and improving the internal workings of banks, there are risks that people could be wrongly included on the list and shut out from jobs, or that individuals could be made scapegoats for larger, institutional failures at the big banks.

In order to prevent that from happening, any formal registry of wrongdoers set up by the banks must have strict rules for when a person is added and how they can appeal their placement on the list, said Ellen Zimiles, a managing director at Navigant Consulting.

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Still, despite her concerns, Zimiles said that having a registry of bad actors could increase the amount of individual accountability for Wall Street’s misdeeds, something that has been lacking.

But some say it does not go far enough.

The Dodd-Frank Act mandated new compensation rules, and more than five years after the law’s passage, they have still not been completed. Without compensation reforms, including clawbacks for violations, a central registry will not be enough to truly reform Wall Street’s internal culture, said David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor.

“Together, perhaps the registry and clawbacks could have a positive effect on firm behavior if they are implemented thoughtfully and are designed to work together,” he said.

And even with the addition of compensation reforms to the central registry forming a “belt and suspenders” approach to reform bank culture, the fiercest of Wall Street critics say that changes will not come unless bankers are brought before courts for alleged violations and sent to jail if found guilty.

“And, of course, along with the belt and suspenders, there should be prison bars as well,” Bart Naylor of Public Citizen said.

That’s something that critics say was missing after the financial crisis.

The registry, however, could be a start to bringing about much-needed accountability, they said.

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