The turbulent past few years in the finance industry culminated this summer in the passage of a reform bill so far-reaching it will affect how the industry works and even the people who work in it. This historic rechanneling of power from Wall Street to Washington in the legislation’s near 2,000 pages will continue to be revealed over time, as the new financial world order meets the real world.
Without question, the demands on everyone in finance will change, and how companies work must be refitted accordingly, including the type and variety of skills now required to meet rules and regulations that simply weren’t there before.
Most fundamentally, the new law is about oversight. More eyes will be watching what everyone in finance does. Amid unprecedented levels of scrutiny, attention to detail now becomes a key part of any job description, and it should be a highlight of any resume. Managing the big picture will remain important, of course, but the ability and willingness to take a jeweler’s glass to deals and other corporate behavior assumes more significance.
A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), for example, has been established within the Federal Reserve. The agency is a new set of bureaucratic eyes to enforce consumer-oriented regulations affecting financial firms, mortgage-related businesses, and payday and student lenders.
As important as it will be for companies to stick to the rules, the customer experience will also be examined. Fine print in financial documents is supposed to be clear and comprehensible and consumers are being empowered with a hot line to complain if they feel mistreated or even just confused. For anyone looking to hire or to be hired, awareness that the CFPB will be watching should factor into future decision making.
The finance industry, like it or not, is being compelled to open up, as well as to be more user-friendly.
Staff, and those charged with building staff, need to be more sensitive to the fact that not only industry practice, but virtually the temperament of corporate behavior, the behavior of the men and women who work in it, is under a stronger lens.
Demands that previously would have been considered intrusive and disruptive will not be routine compliance. From the C-suite level and throughout, companies failing to take this into account will do so at their peril.
In addition to the CFPB keeping watch, the law also sets up a Financial Services Oversight Council. The Council has been compared to an early warning system to sweep the financial firmament for storm clouds in the markets. Made up mostly of existing officials, including the Secretary of the Treasury, the Council’s reach will encompass big non-bank financial firms whose collapse could endanger the wider economy. Companies deemed too shaky could be forced to sell off assets. Federal officials will also have a new degree of authority to seize and to break up financial firms.
Other changes include new restrictions on banks trading in financial markets with their own funds, and proprietary trading has been virtually banned altogether. Investors will be able to sue “recklessly” behaving rating agencies. The checklist for granting a mortgage has been overhauled making it more difficult to give – and to get – a home loan. And the list goes on.
The effectiveness of managing so much change will in large part hinge on finding the right people. People will be the difference between a smooth or rough transition. It is a new era. Individuals who have worked successfully in jobs requiring strict adherence to rules, with track records to prove it, become prime candidates.
Finding those people could be complicated by a provision in the bill that has received scant attention. The bill mandates that every federal finance agency must establish an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. The goal, the law states, is to “ensure equal employment opportunity and racial, ethnic, and gender diversity.”
At least 20 federal agencies are expected to be affected, including the Federal Reserve. Existing diversity programs or civil rights offices must be replaced by January 20, 2011. Some speculate the measure could eventually extend to private banks and other companies that do business with the federal government, potentially impacting future hiring.
There’s been a lot of commentary on the finance reform bill, across a spectrum of opinion from outrage and cynicism to praise and optimism. Regardless, it is now the law.
Businesses must not only accept that fact, they must sharpen and strengthen their practices to meet its demands. Employees must be brought up to speed on it, with time and money set aside for learning and development programs. Many companies may have to increase or augment staff size to cope with the legislation’s enhanced transparency standards and the gamut of new resources for customers. Hiring must be informed by the need to satisfy an environment now driven by the bill’s strictures.
Wrenching as the past few years have been for most financial firms, fresh challenges now lock in a whole new phase of doing business. These new reforms have added much-needed – though arguably burdensome – responsibility and pressure onto firms. We have, in fact, entered a new world order in the financial services field and firms that don’t respond efficiently to these changes will be left behind in a post-financial reform era.
Laurie Chamberlin is Senior Vice President, Accounting Principals, a workforce solutions leader in the accounting and financial services industries.
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