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Opinion

Banks count the cost of US regulation

It’s a good job that many US investment banks have had such a strong first quarter. They need the cash to keep the regulators at bay.

At a recent New York meeting featuring four former SEC chairmen, Harvey Pitt, who was at the SEC helm between 2001 and 2003, leapt to the defence of US regulators. He said at the roundtable, hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, that the global marketplace was being divided between those companies that could meet higher regulatory standards and those that could not. “What we are witnessing globally is that regulatory standards are increasing, not just in the US,” he argued.

We’re not sure that Pitt’s views are shared in the boardrooms of many US banks. On the day he made his remarks a survey was published that indicated that many US banks believe they are at a competitive disadvantage in foreign markets just because of the US regulations they are forced to operate under.

It’s not just that US banks are still settling with the SEC the one-off investigations into their businesses – in March Bear Stearns was the latest to fork out $250 million to end a two-year investigation. Beyond that, banks are spending an increasing amount of time and money keeping the regulators away from their doors in the first place.

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