OPINION: Compliance Gone Wild

Terry Flanagan

“Deutsche Bank to Hire 500 Workers”

That was the first line of a two-line headline from a July 9 Bloomberg News article.

If you caught only that part of the headline and weren’t able to scroll down, wow that was a startling news item, in itself.

A Wall Street bank? Hiring? A decent number of people? In this blah market?

But alas, there was more to the story.

Scrolling down a smidge pulls up the rest of the headline:

“in U.S. for Compliance, Risk”

Okay, that makes sense. DB is in fact hiring more than 40 dozen people in the states by year-end, but not in a way that will boost earnings, or capital raising, or market liquidity. The hires will bolster the firm’s compliance ranks, i.e. the folks who make sure they’re up to snuff on the latest regulations coming out of Washington.

The DB hiring is just the latest example of a broader trend. At Markets Media’s Summer Trading Network held on July 10 in New York, one panelist noted hedge-fund regs have become so onerous that it costs $500,000 just for a start-up to open for business. A recruiter in the audience who posed a question to the panel noted “the only hiring is in compliance.”

Regulation is not a bad thing. Regulation can be a good thing, when it is sensibly applied and achieves its aim of fair and stable markets without too much collateral damage.

But the pendulum can swing too far. When it’s four years after Dodd-Frank, and the only growth in the financial sector is in the area of making sure rules are followed, is that a sign that the pendulum has swung too far?

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