WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said Wednesday that larger banks should have more stringent regulations than smaller ones in light of the recent Wells Fargo fraud findings.
Yellen testified before the House Financial Services Committee on current state of bank regulation and supervision. That task would normally fall to the Fed vice chairman of supervision, a position established by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. But the position is vacant, leaving Yellen to fill in on Capitol Hill.
Yellen emphasized the need for tougher regulation of bigger banks and fewer requirements for smaller community banks. The head of the Fed said the failure of systematically important financial institutions can “destabilize the financial system and undermine the real economy.”
Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said the fine imposed on Wells Fargo — $185 million — was a “disgrace.” There was no admission of guilt by Wells Fargo, Lynch said, and the bank is “getting away with…a little slap on the wrist fine.”
“There is value in just getting after them and making their lives hell,” the angry lawmaker said. Wells Fargo employees created as many as two million fraudulent accounts under customers’ names to reap additional sales benefits, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Yellen told Lynch,“it is important that senior management be held accountable.” She emphasized that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is planning for a process allowing for reviews of all of the largest banks and their compliance regimes.
Yellen said larger banks should be subject to stiffer regulations because they bring larger risks. “Small systems pose much less risk and should be subject to substantially less stringent standards,” she said.
The chairwoman said the Fed has already put in place “key standards designed to limit the risks of the largest and most complex banking firms.”
Yellen got pushback from Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., who complained that smaller community banks in his home state can spend up to 25 percent of their time and resources on compliance with regulations.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., also a member of the committee, defended Yellen on the political front. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump charged recently that the Fed’s actions are sometimes politically motivated.
Maloney said she was disturbed that anyone would say “Chair Yellen is somehow acting politically. Nothing could be further from the truth and I would like to thank you for your service to country over your long career.”
But Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., berated Yellen, insisting she was being influenced politically by the Obama administration and also aiding Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Garrett claimed that the Fed has “an unacceptable poster relationship both with the Obama administration and higher ups,” and that Yellen has “personally had weekly lunches with department heads at the Treasury.”
Yellen denied any political motives in her legislative proceedings and shutdown speculation aroused by Garrett. The Federal Reserve operates as an independent agency, although its members are appointed by the president.
“I certainly have not been pressured in anyway by the administration,” Yellen said. “In my experience they have greatly respected the Fed’s independence …”
Yellen took on claims that the Federal Reserve is intentionally keeping the interest rates low to please the Obama administration, saying the Fed “wants to make sure the job market is sustainable over the immediate term.”
For most of the year, Yellen said job creation has been running at a pace of about 180,000 added jobs per month — slightly lower than in 2015.
Yellen said she does not expect a significant increase in wages any time soon as labor productivity has been “exceptionally slow.” She said that any rise in wages right now would be due to a boost in inflation. That wouldn’t be regarded as an authentic wage increase.