) -- Of the four CEOs appearing before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) on Wednesday, the one who wasn't in charge of a major bank during the financial crisis has the most to prove.
It's possible that Brian Moynihan, who has headed
Bank of America
for not quite two weeks, may be asked about events, conversations and details he only had glancing knowledge of. During the bulk of the crisis in 2008, he had served as general counsel, and was then assigned by his predecessor Ken Lewis to head up two different units in less than a year.
Brian Moynihan, CEO and president of the Bank of America
While his roles were nothing to scoff at -- Moynihan was a top executive at the country's largest bank, who reported directly to the CEO -- if asked for details concerning the controversial
merger, his responses may be second-hand at best. Moynihan wasn't a decision-maker; he was a deputy.
However, as the new face of Bank of America, Moynihan has some momentous tasks ahead.
He's on a mission to woo back customer trust after years of
indecipherable loan terms
, outsized overdraft fees, credit-card rate hikes and adjustable-rate mortgage explosions. He must also win back the confidence of investors who approved an acquisition while being kept in the dark about details. Those details required a more extensive and costly bailout package, and helped send Bank of America stock to $3 a share in March.
Finally, Moynihan must win back public respect -- perhaps the most difficult task in an environment where the
chastises "fat cat" bankers on television and activist groups launch protests on executives' lawns.
To accomplish these feats, Moynihan went on a media blitz his first
and announced a reshuffling of the
on Tuesday. But on Wednesday, he's unlikely to provide information that's any more insightful or telling than what's already been disclosed. First because he probably doesn't know more than crisis-era CEOs who have already testified before Congress, and second, because ongoing investigations and lawsuits related to the Merrill deal will prevent him from doing so.
The 10-member, bi-partisan commission that will be launching the questions is headed by Phil Angelides, California's former state treasurer. It has five other Democratic appointees, and four Republican ones, each with backgrounds in finance and government. Yet, at least until Wednesday's hearing adjourns, it's unclear whether its members will be throwing hardballs in true
, or putting on a show of political theater.
As far as the FCIC's purposes go, there are some glaring absences in the roster for its first day of inquiry. There will be four CEOs of major banks there, including Moynihan,
Jamie Dimon and
John Mack, who ceded the CEO slot to James Gorman at the start of the year but still serves as chairman.
Yet B of A's Lewis, who headed the country's largest bank during the crisis and made some of the most controversial decisions, won't be there. Nor will Vikram Pandit, the head of
, which received one of the most extensive bank bailouts.
Another conspicuous absence is that of anyone from
American International Group
, whose bailouts were the most enormous, even though they aren't traditional banks. And if the commission is seeking to find out how and why the crisis occurred for the public interest, why not question deposed CEOs like Merrill's Stan O'Neal or John Thain, Citi's Chuck Prince, Countrywide's Angelo Mozilo, Lehman's Dick Fuld or Bear Stearn's Jimmy Cayne? Why not go to the people in charge when the problems occurred to find out how they began?
But perhaps those are questions for another day, and another hearing. On Wednesday, the bankers may be asked about bonuses and profits, lending practices and disclosures, regulatory changes and conflicts of interest. Expect to hear the same answers that have been repeated time and again for more than a year, with few revelations and fewer apologies.
Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York