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Bankers try to put a better face before Congress

WASHINGTON — Looking to douse public and congressional anger, chief executives at some of the biggest financial institutions are on a mission to repair their image and gain more influence over legislation that would overhaul regulations that govern their industry.

They have their work cut out for them.

Attempts to reach a bipartisan agreement on new regulations hit an impasse in the Senate Banking Committee on Friday, a day after chairman Christopher Dodd accused the financial industry of deploying "an army of lobbyists whose only mission is to kill the common-sense financial reforms we have been working so hard to achieve."

Eager to change that tone, top bankers fanned out across Capitol Hill this week, meeting with House and Senate members involved in banking policies and assuring them that they, too, want to prevent another financial meltdown.

"The No. 1 goal we have is to be relevant to this fix," said Richard Davis, chairman and CEO of U.S. Bancorp.

The breakdown in the Senate negotiations is a setback for the bill. A priority of the Obama administration, the legislation intends to address weaknesses in the financial system that led to the crisis that gripped Wall Street in fall 2008. The legislation aims to increase consumer protections on loans and credit cards, add restrictions to previously unregulated financial products and find ways to dismantle failing firms without resorting to taxpayer bailouts. The House has already passed its version of the bill.

But Dodd, D-Conn., has been unable to find common ground over consumer protections with Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the committee. Nonetheless, Dodd said he will incorporate compromises that were agreed on by other committee members from both parties.

Shelby, siding with banks, opposes creation of an entity that would have authority to write its own regulations. Currently, consumer protections are carried out by the various bank regulators, who also watch over the safety and soundness of banks.

"In order to strike the appropriate balance, they must be integrated with each other, not separated from each other," Shelby said Friday.

The industry is also taking the public's pulse, underwriting national surveys of customers, small businesses and corporations to gauge how much damage control they have ahead of them. The polling is a joint effort of the Financial Services Roundtable and the American Bankers Association, two industry groups.

"We need to tell our story better than we have in the past," said Davis, the roundtable's chairman.

Also Friday, JPMorgan Chase & Co. chief executive Jamie Dimon received a stock bonus valued at nearly $16 million for 2009 after steering the big bank through the aftermath of the financial crisis, the company said.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein is getting a $9 million stock bonus for 2009.

Bankers try to put a better face before Congress 02/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 9:48pm]
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