WASHINGTON -- Regulators of the nation's banks and securities firms unveiled a blue-ribbon panel last week to make recommendations for greater public disclosure about the affairs of a new breed of financial behemoths.
Curiously absent from the roster: any representatives of the public or individual investors.
Also not planned: any public meetings of the group.
Federal Reserve Board
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Securities and Exchange Commission
on Thursday announced the panel of 13 executives from U.S. and international companies, drawn exclusively from big banks and securities firms. The committee, to be called the
Working Group on Public Disclosure
, will be headed by Walter Shipley, former chairman of
Chase Manhattan Bank
The committee's composition drew a rebuke from a representative of a top consumer organization.
"It would seem to me that the industry is not necessarily the best source or the exclusive source for what the public should know," said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the
Consumer Federation of America
. "They don't have a strong incentive to give us the information we need about their financial standing."
Shipley defended the membership, saying there will be adequate time for public comment once the group completes its work, hopefully by this fall or year-end.
"It is very complex stuff," he said. "Having to go through tutorials on country risk and cross-border risk, or derivative risk, I think it's more efficient to get it (this) way. I think we have a pretty good perspective."
As for closed meetings, he said: "This is a private-sector group asked to come up with recommendations."
Ultimately, he said, public interest will be served because it is in the group's interest to do so. "There's no reason for not wanting to do the right thing. I think we have a pretty good perspective."
Spokesmen for the regulatory agencies said a key aim of the panel is to spur industry to disclose more voluntarily, without formal government intervention. "They felt that having people from the groups most involved in it made the most sense," said SEC spokesman Chris Ullman. The question of whether participants should include individual investors, or perhaps investment funds that act on behalf of individuals, "has not come up," he said.
The working group, expected to begin meeting next month, is charged with examining greater public disclosure as a way to improve the ability of investors and financial markets to evaluate the risks of a new class of large, complex, financial-service companies being formed as banks and securities firms increasingly merge their activities.
While the U.S. financial system now requires disclosure of a good deal of information, there is a growing belief that investors, if given sufficient information, can at least help "discipline" financial institutions. Depositors, investors or traders would reward safe, well-managed institutions, while punishing the weak.
Banks and securities firms gradually have been venturing onto each other's turf in recent years. But passage of last year's
, which repealed Depression-era laws separating banking from brokerage activities, is expected to accelerate that process.
And that is raising questions that are not only difficult to answer but also could cost investors money: What if, for example, a bank's new venture capital activities go in the tank?
"In the extreme, there's a risk of contagion from one to the other," Shipley said. "The more disclosure to the markets, and it's not just the equity markets, then the greater marketplace discipline there will be. That's good."
In announcing the blue-ribbon panel, the three federal agencies pointed out the desirability of banks' and security firms' "stakeholders" -- the complete range of people and companies that deal with them -- getting more information. But despite that, membership on the panel is clearly an industry crowd.
"Even if they do a tremendous job, it would have more credibility if it has nonindustry participation," Roper said.
Besides Shipley, others named to the group were: Clemens Boersig, chief financial officer of Germany's
; Dina Dublon, executive vice president and chief financial officer of
Chase Manhattan Bank
in New York; Douglas Flint, finance director of
in London; James Hance, vice chairman and chief financial officer of
Bank of America
in Charlotte, N.C.; Peter Hancock, chief financial officer of
in New York; Ross Kari, executive vice president and chief financial officer of
in San Francisco; Thomas H. Patrick, executive vice president and chief financial officer of
in New York; Lisa K. Polsky, managing director of
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
in New York; Marcel Rohner, group managing board member and chief risk manager of
in Switzerland; Robert Rosholt, executive vice president and chief financial officer of
in Chicago; Todd S. Thomson, chief financial officer of
in New York, and Barry L. Zubrow, managing director and chief administrative officer of
in New York.