Play it again, Lloyd
The Goldman boss's latest comments on banking reform and compensation are hardly earth-shattering. But his exhortations not to stifle risk-taking make sense.
(breakingviews.com) -- Anyone expecting Lloyd Blankfein to issue a nostra culpa for all the financial crises in modern economic history will have been disappointed.
At a banking conference in Frankfurt on Wednesday, the Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) boss mostly just reiterated a handful of basic lessons from the most recent crash. Nonetheless, coming hot on the heels of last weekend's G20 summit, his speech shouldn't be ignored.
There's nothing newly enlightening in his statement that financial instruments grew too complex too quickly. In fact, given the central role in the meltdown of relatively new products, it's really stating the obvious. And supporting the use of central clearing houses and exchange trading for standardized derivatives is a no-brainer when it's already well underway.
Meanwhile, Blankfein's take on compensation may sound robust -- paying employees more in stock, deferring compensation, imposing clawbacks, rewarding teamwork more than individual achievement and banning multi-year guaranteed bonuses. But as he pointed out, Goldman made its position on this issue clear almost six months ago.
But repetition can serve a useful purpose. That seems especially true for a few of his other comments. For starters, he noted that properly marking assets to market on a daily basis actually helps manage risk -- a strong argument coming from a firm that is one of the few to have avoided the worst of the crisis, and a rebuff to those who want to dilute mark-to-market rules.
He also cautioned that just creating new powers for regulators won't cut it: they also have to have the right resources -- both people and information -- to ask the right questions and act on the answers. And throughout his speech, whether directly or indirectly, he also reminded his audience that taking risks is at the heart of not just investment banking but economic capitalism.
Sure, there's a self-serving element here, as there usually is when a Wall Street executive speaks out publicly -- Blankfein didn't mention cutting bankers' pay, for example. But exhorting trigger-happy lawmakers not to completely stifle the markets -- and to make any new regulations effective, not just sweeping -- makes for a sensible rallying cry.