Some Big Firms Might Escape Volcker Plan

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If you work on the principal strategies team or internal hedge fund at a bulge-bracket institution, would the Obama-Volcker bank overhaul plan force you to change employers if it's eventually enacted? No clear answer is evident yet.

A critical question arising from last week's White House announcement is, would the restrictions apply only to "banks" legally designated as such - that is, those overseen by the Federal Reserve - or would the proposed bans on proprietary trading and alternative investments ownership also apply to major financial institutions that don't operate commercial banks?

A New York Times story suggests - albeit with some ambiguity - banks alone will be subject to the new rules. And it clarifies that the administration will allow Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to ditch the bank holding company status both firms reluctantly embraced during the height of the financial crisis in late 2008.

"Treasury Department officials are ...seeking to give banks that do not like the proposed rules the option of dropping their status as holding companies to keep their trading and other investment businesses," the Times says.

Later in the same story, however, a Treasury spokesman says big, leveraged financial firms - whether bank holding companies or not - would still be "regulated on a comprehensive, consolidated basis."

As for Goldman Sachs, its stance on remaining a bank holding company is also ambiguous. CFO David Viniar reiterated last week the company isn't thinking about asking to be relieved of its federal bank charter. But Goldman officials have privately said the opposite, according to the Times.

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