Why is this Topic Important to Wealth Managers? This topic discusses the evaluation report of the financial crisis issued by a Congressionally appointed body. The report presents discussion of events and causes leading up to the ordeal, as well as indications and factors which presented its forthcoming. The discussion is aimed to allow wealth managers to intelligently discuss some causes of the financial crisis with clients and colleagues.
There was a new report issued earlier this year by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which was created to “examine the causes of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States.”  In this report, the Commission presents to the President, the Congress, and the general public the results of its examination and its conclusions as to the causes of the crisis.
The Commission was established as part of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act passed by Congress and signed by the President in May 2009.  The independent panel was selected by Congress and composed of private citizens with experience in areas such as housing, economics, insurance, market regulation, banking, and consumer protection.
The report is intended to provide a historical accounting of what brought our financial system and economy to a precipice and to help policy makers and the public better understand how this calamity came to be.
Below are some of the findings issued in the report:
The financial crisis was avoidable. Despite the expressed view of many on Wall Street and in Washington that the crisis could not have been foreseen or avoided, there were warning signs. These were ignored or discounted. There was an explosion in risky subprime lending and securitization, an unsustainable rise in housing prices, widespread reports of egregious and predatory lending practices, dramatic increases in household mortgage debt, and exponential growth in financial firms’ trading activities, unregulated derivatives, and short-term “repo” lending markets, among many other red flags.
The widespread failures in financial regulation and supervision proved devastating to the stability of the nation’s financial markets. The report notes that more than 30 years of deregulation and reliance on self-regulation by financial institutions, championed by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and others, supported by successive administrations and Congresses, and actively pushed by the powerful financial industry at every turn, had removed key safeguards, which could have helped avoid catastrophe.
The dramatic failures of corporate governance and risk management at many systemically important financial institutions were a key cause of this crisis. There was a view that instincts for self-preservation inside major financial firms would shield them from fatal risk-taking without the need for a steady regulatory hand, which, the firms argued, would stifle innovation. Too many of these institutions acted recklessly, taking on too much risk, with too little capital, and with too much dependence on short-term funding. In many respects, this reflected a fundamental change in these institutions, particularly the large investment banks and bank holding companies, which focused their activities increasingly on risky trading activities that produced hefty profits.
A combination of excessive borrowing, risky investments, and lack of transparency put the financial system on a collision course with crisis. In the years leading up to the crisis, too many financial institutions, as well as too many households, borrowed to the hilt, leaving them vulnerable to financial distress or ruin if the value of their investments declined even modestly.
The government was ill prepared for the crisis, and its inconsistent response added to the uncertainty and panic in the financial market. The report notes that key policy makers—the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York—who were best positioned to watch over our markets were ill prepared for the events of the financial crisis. Other agencies were also behind the curve. They were hampered because they did not have a clear grasp of the financial system they were charged with overseeing, particularly as it had evolved in the years leading up to the crisis. This was in no small measure due to the lack of transparency in key markets. They thought risk had been diversified when, in fact, it had been concentrated. Time and again, policy makers and regulators were caught off guard as the contagion spread, responding on an ad hoc basis with specific programs to put fingers in the dike. There was no comprehensive and strategic plan for containment, because they lacked a full understanding of the risks and interconnections in the financial markets. Some regulators have since conceded this error.
Tomorrow’s blogticle will discuss new and exciting planning aspects of 2011.
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The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report. Final Report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States.
January 201. http://c0182732.cdn1.cloudfiles.rackspacecloud.com/fcic_final_report_full.pdf. Last Accessed 2/27/2011.
 See Public Law 111-21.