Fed's Powell says new rules for bank directors don't lower the bar

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell on Wednesday delivered a robust defense of new regulations for bank directors, saying they would streamline the role directors play in the day-to-day oversight of their institutions, but don’t weaken their hand.

Jerome H. Powell, a governor on the board of the Federal Reserve System, prepares to testify to the Senate Banking Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“We do not intend that these reforms will lower the bar for boards or lighten the loads of directors,” Powell told a banking conference at the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank. “The intent is to enable directors to spend less board time on routine matters and more on core board responsibilities.”

The draft rules, which were proposed this month and are in a 60-day comment period, have been criticized for potentially weakening the oversight of the board, whose risk-taking was seen as a key catalyst for the global financial crisis of 2007-2009.

Under the changes, the Fed would bring specific regulatory concerns to bank management rather than the board. Directors have complained of being bogged down by paperwork required under regulations put in place after the financial crisis.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen last week delivered a strong message that she would oppose any wholesale easing of post-crisis Wall Street reforms that Congress and a White House administration have suggested have slowed the economy. Powell on Wednesday sought to emphasize that the new guidance for bank directors will enhance their oversight ability, carving out a role that was separate from management rather than duplicative.

Powell said the new guidance, which has been under development for several years, will take some time to implement.

“It’s fair to say that we should have done it sooner,” he said in response to a question on the timing of the proposal. “I feel strongly this is the right direction.”

The board’s responsibilities, he said, include overseeing management and holding it accountable to its strategy, and making sure that risk management and audits are conducted independently.

“Failure to ensure the independence of these functions from the revenue generators and risk takers has been shown to be dangerous, and this is something for which the board is accountable,” Powell said.

Powell did not comment on monetary policy or the outlook for the U.S. economy.

Writing by Ann Saphir with reporting by Michelle Price; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama