Has Wall Street regulation worked? As a landmark stock-research settlement--requiring brokerages to spend $460 million over five years on reforms--expired this week, the key man behind the deal, Eliot Spitzer, and two experts, former Citigroup CFO Sallie Krawcheck and Fortune's Allan Sloan, convened at CNNMoney's studios to talk about the progress. I sat in on their conversation. You can view segments on CNNMoney by clicking the links at the end of this post or viewing the entire 27-minute video here.
[cnnmoney-video vid=/video/news/2009/07/29/n_spitzer_krawcheck_final.cnnmoney] The panelists agreed on one thing: The best evidence that the reforms actually aided individual investors is that we haven't heard much lately about dishonest stock analysts. (Bad research has mainly come out of rating agencies, which have conflicts of interest that need fixing.) That said, as often happens, the reformers did more than needed, ushering in disclosure rules and red tape that have confused consumers more than helped them with their investment choices.
In Krawcheck's view, at least. Spitzer, whose Dudley Do-Right reputation collapsed with the sex scandal that knocked him from the New York governor's post, pushed back. He likens investors who gripe about excessive regulation to patients who leave the hospital after a cure and say, "But you gave me three antibiotics that I didn't need!" Krawcheck liked the analogy. But over lunch yesterday, as she I recapped the roundtable, she said she wished she had replied to Spitzer: "Too many antibiotics make the patient immune."
Krawcheck, who oversaw Citi's global wealth management unit after her CFO stint, says that financial regulation everywhere has become so complex that consumers often don't understand what they're getting, whether they're buying a mortgage (as she did recently) or a mutual fund. "More is not always better. Better is better," she says. Wall Street firms, she contends, purposely create complex products that are practically impossible to understand because they want to confuse competitors--so as to prevent them from copying and gaining ground.
Where is Krawcheck, 44, going next? Since Citi announced her exit last September--following clashes with CEO Vikram Pandit--the banking world's onetime Most Powerful Woman (and Dell board member) has been elusive and mostly silent. That's changing. She told me at lunch that she's come close to accepting a couple of jobs--all in financial services--only to decide that they didn't "hit the bulls-eye." Particularly in this treacherous environment, she says, "there's no use rushing."
My bet: Krawcheck will land somewhere--or maybe announce she's starting her own firm--later this year.