Wide Agenda for Shelby's Oversight Hearings

By Heller, Michele | American Banker, July 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Wide Agenda for Shelby's Oversight Hearings


Heller, Michele, American Banker


It's hardly a modest agenda.

Starting in September, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby plans a set of hearings on the "state of the industry" that will cover topics including -- but not limited to -- Sarbanes-Oxley, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, tying, hedge funds, accounting, and the Wall Street global settlement.

He's also accepting recommendations for additions to the list.

Sen. Shelby has a history of clashing with the banking industry, and his past record on such issues as consumer privacy and real estate brokerage powers for banks illustrates that. But the Alabama Republican, who has led the committee for six months, promised the hearings would have a measured tone and would be aimed at anticipating future issues rather than reacting to the recent past.

"I don't want to do any harm to the market, but we want to make sure that others do no harm to the market," Sen. Shelby said in a phone interview last week. He said the committee would be "vigorous, tough, prudent, thoughtful, and thorough with our oversight."

The first of the oversight hearings will zero in on the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. (Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted in the wake of the collapse of companies like Enron Corp. and WorldCom to overhaul accounting, auditing, and other corporate governance practices. Gramm-Leach-Bliley removed the remaining legal barriers to merging commercial banking, securities, and insurance.)

"To get a timely picture of what is going on and to stay ahead of the curve ... we intend to hold hearings on the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and take a thorough look at changes in the financial services landscape since the enactment nearly four years ago of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act," Sen. Shelby said.

"It is important for us to continually look at how the laws are working -- or perhaps not working. Are they achieving what they were intended to achieve ... or are they causing problems that weren't anticipated?"

Hearing topics are still being formulated, and many ideas will come from the bank, securities, insurance, and government-sponsored enterprise regulators themselves. Sen. Shelby emphasized that he would like many of his "state-of-the-industry" hearings to anticipate issues, instead of reacting to existing ones.

Edward L. Yingling, the executive vice president of the American Bankers Association, said the industry should not be worried about Senate Banking's probes despite Sen. Shelby's and ranking Democrat Paul Sarbanes' populist streaks.

"The industry is in remarkably good shape and one of the great untold stories" of the country's economic condition "is how incredibly well the banking industry has done," Mr. Yingling said. "What you have seen is a very strong base in the banking system."

James Spellman, a spokesman for the Securities Industry Association, said the scrutiny could help Wall Street firms by signaling to investors that Congress is watching out for them. …

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