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Posts Tagged ‘oversight of Wall Street’

Is Wall Street On the Up and Up?

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 3rd, 2009 11:57 AM |

The core of that question resides within the regulatory oversight of our financial industry.  The American public is beginning to learn a lot about this financial regulatory oversight. How so? A month ago, SEC Inspector General David Kotz released a report, Investigation of Failure of the SEC to Uncover Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme (embedded here). Yesterday, the Wall Street self-regulatory organization, FINRA, released Report of the 2009 Special Review Committee on FINRA’s Examination Program In Light of the Stanford and Madoff Schemes.

What did we learn from yesterday’s report? Plenty. For that, I commend all those involved in this effort. With all due respect to FINRA employees who have legitimately tried to fulfill their obligations to the best of their abilities, yesterday’s report is nothing short of a massive indictment of FINRA’s management, FINRA’s board, and the SEC which is charged to oversee FINRA. Why? Having read this report twice and studied critical components of it, FINRA is exposed as nothing more than a collection of crossing guards . . . said with all due respect to crossing guards. Have the supervisors of the crossing guards been so heavily influenced by Wall Street so as to render large parts of the FINRA mission ineffective? Many believe this to be true, including me.

Why so harsh? Let’s navigate and be a little more aggressive than the mainstream financial media in analyzing this report. In the process, I think you will appreciate my assessment and also realize there are many more questions which need to be answered.

The FINRA report is largely divided into the organization’s dealings with the financial frauds encompassing Allen Stanford and Bernard Madoff. Referencing the massive regulatory failings on FINRA’s behalf in these two cases, the authors provide recommendations which FINRA’s management will present for approval or ratification at the December 2009 Board meeting.

For purposes here, I will not regurgitate the numerous individual failings of FINRA examiners and management in each of these cases. Rather, I will highlight those failings which I find most egregious. In turn, I want to focus on highlighting the recommendations so the American public can truly understand how woefully inept, incompetent, and ill-prepared this financial self-regulatory organization has been and currently is to uphold its mission to protect investors. Against that backdrop, I will then lay out questions which I deem to be critically important for FINRA to answer if the American public can ever regain a degree of confidence in the oversight of Wall Street.

>> Stanford Case

1. In 2003, the Stanford broker-dealer generated 68% of its revenues from the sale of Stanford International Bank CD’s. Are you kidding me? Red Flag!! That finding did not prompt the examiner to dig deeper?!

2. A 2003 Anonymous Tip Letter laid out the Stanford scheme in detail.

3. In 2005, a FINRA examiner learned that the Stanford broker-dealer is paid an annual fee of 3% of the deposit sum for every CD. Another red flag! Standard practice would have bankers or securities salespeople earning a one-time fee of maximum .25%.

At this point, Stanford International Bank had raised approximately $1.5 billion in what would grow to a $7.2 billion scam.

With all due respect to FINRA employees who may have continued to look into Stanford over the 2005-2008 time period, truth be told FINRA did not further aggressively pursue this case until the Madoff situation broke in December 2008.

>> Madoff Case

1. FINRA largely limits its review of the Madoff scam to the 2003-present time period. Why not go back further? FINRA had longstanding oversight of the Madoff enterprise.

2. FINRA largely reduces the extensive relationships between Bernie Madoff and family members with FINRA to nothing more than a footnote. That footnote on page 46 provides a cursory approval of FINRA’s relationship with the Madoff firm and family. Why aren’t these relationships more deeply explored?

3. The report acknowledges what we always knew about FINRA having oversight of Madoff’s operation. FINRA representatives, including Mary Schapiro, have willingly and intentionally misrepresented the fact that FINRA had oversight of Madoff’s enterprise. Did Mary Schapiro perjure herself on this topic during her confirmation hearings to be Head of the SEC? Well, she may not have perjured herself, but she and others have willingly misrepresented FINRA’s required oversight of Madoff over the long time period when Madoff was strictly a registered broker-dealer and ran this massive Ponzi scheme within that framework.

4. FINRA failed to detect the full breadth of the relationship between Cohmad Securities and Madoff.  Bernie Madoff and his brother Peter owned 24% of Cohmad, and the Cohmad broker-dealer operated within the same office space as Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. Cohmad was largely a front for feeding customers into Madoff’s scam. The report provides:

Cohmad was registered as a broker-dealer and reported having approximately 750 to 850 customer accounts, which were held by and cleared through Bear Stearns Securities Corporation. These accounts usually generated roughly 300 transactions per month, mostly in equities and, to a lesser extent, municipal bonds.

I would very much like to know more details about these municipal bonds. Were they municipal auction rate securities?

5. How did FINRA miss the Madoff scam? This report acknowledges the fact that FINRA examiners merely took Madoff and his representatives at their word that Madoff was running nothing more than a broker-dealer. Are you kidding me? It was common knowledge that Madoff had a money management business. FINRA maintains that the FINRA ‘crossing guards’ checked the little boxes on their Madoff review sheets and went on their way. (more…)

A Real Regulatory Review: Sense on Cents Interview with Bill Singer

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 15th, 2009 1:35 PM |

I feel so strongly about my interview last evening with Bill Singer, the preeminent veteran Wall Street regulatory lawyer and market reform advocate, that I am providing a transcript of highlights. My transcription is not totally word for word, so at the end of this post I will provide a BlogTalkRadio audio player so that you can playback the complete interview.

As time allows, I sincerely hope you read the entirety of this transcript and will listen to the complete interview. In my opinion, the issues addressed are that important. You will not be disappointed.

Given Bill’s extensive experience and relationships, he is uniquely positioned to comment on these timely and cutting edge issues. And now, on to the transcript . . .

Sense on Cents: Bill, we have just gone through a tsunami of epic proportions. Our financial industry brought our nation to its knees. We now get the sense that the regulatory oversight of our financial industry may not truly change. What are your feelings about that?

Bill Singer: I think you are right on point. My greatest fear is at the end of the day, we all go back to square one. It’s like asking for a mulligan in golf. People’s lives have been shattered and businesses destroyed. If you listen to the ‘garbage’ coming out of Washington, it’s as if the solutions are the same old things. We’ll set up panels, write papers, but what will really change?  I don’t know what planet these people are living on, but last I looked, we haven’t gotten out of this crisis. We owe the next generation a much better regulatory system and a much fairer market. You just get this overwhelming sense that the ‘fix is in.’

Wall Street is wiping their brow and sweat and saying “whew, that was a close one.” It’s as if Wall street is telling Washington, “You’re still with us, aren’t you? We’re still paying for your campaigns.” I’m just afraid that nothing will really change other than some cosmetic changes.

Sense on Cents: I hope some real statesmen step up to address these issues. Since I’ve been writing, I believe we always get into the sufficiency of regulations. Which regulations need to be improved and which should be wiped away. I strongly believe, first and foremost, any industry has to have transparency and integrity in its process. As you just mentioned, it seems as if the ‘fix is in.’

Bill Singer: Larry, I’ve been reading your columns for quite some time now. This is not the time for anybody to be blowing smoke up anybody’s “you know what.”  We have a career cast of politicians and regulators who by and large have never really worked for a living and who don’t really have a sense of what the ‘everyday Joe’ goes through. What we need right now is new ideas, new blood. You can’t break into the system. If you have been one of the individuals who has been warning about the major issues for years, you’d think that you would be invited in to ask to contribute ideas to fix them. That never happens. Those folks who regulate us are a very closed society. We have a system in our country that feeds cronyism and there is no way out of it.

I have reached out repeatedly over the years to regulatory bodies and as a 30 year veteran, and a former regulator, if I can’t even get an interview (and I’m not saying I would even want the job; they probably couldn’t afford me), that tells me how corrupt the system is.

When the public reads about Harry Markopolos and Gary Aguirre who have tried to expose issues and they aren’t embraced, that speaks volumes. Regulation has been “in bed” with Wall Street for very long. We need a vibrant and intelligent regulatory system to protect the public against fraud and the industry against its own folly. (more…)






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