10 Questions for the Financial Crisis Commission

The following is from Eliot Spitzer (former attorney general and governor of New York), Frank Partnoy (professor of law at the University of San Diego) and William Black (investigator of the S&L crisis and a professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City)


1. AIG: What was your firm’s relationship with AIG? How much exposure did you have to AIG? What information did you publicly disclose about that exposure? Did you think AIG’s CDS strategy was “good business”? Do you think we still would have needed to rescue AIG if its derivatives had been centrally cleared, as some in Congress have proposed?

2. Disclosure: Were your financial statements during 2005-08 accurate? What did your officers disclose to your board about your bank’s exposure to the nonprime mortgage markets before 2008? What specific information did you publicly disclose about your exposure to derivatives and nonprime mortgages? When did officers or employees of your firm recognize that there was a serious risk of a housing bubble? What did they recommend, and what changes did the firm implement, in response to the identification of this risk? Why?

3. Pay: What was your bank’s total compensation for officers for each year from 2001 to the present? What were the components of that compensation? Identify and explain where compensation created perverse incentives in the following contexts: your bank, other banks, executive compensation advisory firms, audit firms, appraisers, rating agencies, loan brokers, loan officers? What aspects of compensation produced these perverse incentives? When did employees of your bank become aware of the literature in economics, criminology, and compensation warning of these perverse incentives? What specific actions did the bank take in response? Which elements of your bank’s compensation system create perverse incentives?

4. Ratings: Why do you think the rating agencies gave AAA ratings to toxic CDOs? Did you think CDO credit ratings accurately reflected their credit worthiness? Did employees of your bank ever express concerns internally/publicly about the judgment of the ratings agencies? If so, when was the first time?

5. Moral hazard: What incentives at your institution helped lead to the financial crisis? What conversations did you have with the Fed regarding your exposure to CDS and other derivatives? What monetary value would you place on the government guarantee of your deposits?

6. Mortgage fraud: Name the three nonprime specialty lenders with the worst reputations for originating fraudulent mortgages. Name the three nonprime specialty lenders with the worst reputations for originating predatory loans. Is there any legitimate business reason why a secured lender would seek to induce appraisers to inflate the value of the secured property? When did employees of your bank become aware that coercion of appraisers to inflate appraised values was becoming common? What action did they take or recommend when they became aware?

7. Warnings: What were the three most significant specific steps your banks took in response to the FBI’s September 2004 warning that the developing “epidemic” of mortgage fraud would produce a crisis if it were not stemmed? Why do you think the spread on nonprime mortgages fell after this warning, and other warnings? Why did bank loss reserves also fall during this time? What were your bank’s analyses of these risks and the adequacy of loss reserves (industry-wide and at your bank) and how did they change as the markets exhibited these perverse patterns? What did your bank’s officers recommend that the bank do in response to these perverse market conditions and what actions did the bank actually take? Were the industry reactions, and your bank’s reactions, to the warnings adequate?

8. Lobbying: How much has your bank spent on lobbying over the last five years? This year? How many additional personnel has your bank hired full-time or as consultants to lobby the federal government?

9. Crimes: How many criminal referrals has your bank made for mortgage-related frauds in each year beginning in 2002? How many named your own officers or employees? Does the FBI have adequate resources to investigate such frauds? Explain how an epidemic of mortgage fraud must lead to widespread accounting and securities fraud if the mortgage paper is to be resold.

10. Regulation: Did the passage of the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000 contribute to the crisis? Did the federal regulators’ efforts to preempt state regulation of predatory mortgage lenders contribute to the crisis? Should the Federal Reserve have used its authority under HOEPA to regulate nonprime lending during the financial bubble? Provide any contemporaneous analyses of the role of regulation, deregulation, and desupervision in contributing to the crisis. Did your bank lobby (directly or indirectly through trade associations) in support of deregulatory efforts that contributed to the crisis?

Eliot Spitzer is a former attorney general and governor of New York. Frank Partnoy is a professor of law at the University of San Diego and the best-selling author of The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals, about the 1920s markets and Ivar Kreuger, who many consider the father of modern financial schemes. William Black is a former investigator of the S&L crisis and a professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One.

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