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TheStreet Open House

8 Unlearned Lessons of Lehman

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- It has been two years since Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, the largest bank to do so in U.S. history.

The collapse, a catalyst for the financial meltdown that followed, was chock full of teachable moments. But did we get them?

Some good will come from the turmoil, perhaps from financial reforms enacted earlier this year. But there are plenty of lessons from Lehman that haven't sunk in. Here are some of them.

1. We still haven't reined in risk

New financial-reform regulations will create a government agency to monitor risk, a core cause of Lehman's failure, and make recommendations.

Yet, in doing so, the agency takes over that duty, presumably, from the Federal Reserve. Can it do a better job in tackling this too-big-to-ignore problem among too-big-to-fail institutions? Perhaps, but effective guidelines are key, as is the agency's ability to stay above the fray of political pressure and the influence of lobbyists. Can it coordinate the participation of various regulatory agencies needed to get the job done?

What we still haven't learned is why the Fed proved so inadequate in its duties. If the new agency has a chance to succeed, we need to better understand what went wrong.

Stricter corporate governance is still lacking. Lehman did impose internal risk limits. The problem was that the bank would simply change those limits -- without a peep from either its board or other overseers.

2. We haven't quenched our thirst for liquidity

The financial-reform package also addresses the issue of liquidity, though perhaps not in as meaningful a way as the Lehman collapse should have inspired.

In theory, forcing financial institutions to cover their bets with on-hand cash-like assets (such as Treasuries) is a good idea intended to keep the word "bailout" from being uttered for years to come. A large part of the Lehman collapse is traceable to its reliance on illiquid assets.

Regulators -- in the past and, so far, in the early days of financial reform -- have been reluctant to set clear, uniform liquidity guidelines, likely as a concession to the bottom line and to avoid untoward effects for investors.

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