We need to get past the finreg political theatrics

The US House Financial Services Committee grilled SEC chair Gary Gensler during a lengthy hearing that makes for spicey headlines but is ultimately not helpful in the pursuit of sensible regulation, argues Virginie O’Shea, founder, Firebrand Research.

This week, I sat through near five hours of extremely tedious and not particularly useful debate during the US House Financial Services Committee’s grilling of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Gary Gensler. If sensible and appropriate financial regulation is needed (and I don’t think anyone can debate it isn’t), we need to get past the theatrics, political point scoring and – frankly – the yelling and shouting to a place where discussions are measured and helpful.

Given Gensler hadn’t testified before the committee for about 18 months, some of the House representatives had obviously stored up a lot of angst that five minutes was insufficient in length to fully vent their frustration. One representative spent almost the entire time shouting at Gensler, interspersed with questions to which a “yes or no” answer was impossible. Now, it isn’t the first time I’ve seen the House engage in a line of questioning where the individual giving testimony is badgered with answering “yes or no” to an impossible question, but this particular instance was accompanied by a level of belligerence you rarely see in a public forum.

I felt extremely sorry for Gensler. Yes, the SEC’s proposals in certain areas are somewhat ludicrous – swing pricing, anyone – but screaming and shouting at a man that’s just trying to do his job and protect the investing public isn’t necessary. Let alone over four hours of it.

The list of topics up for discussion was so varied and lengthy that it was almost impossible to tackle and lines of questioning were often side-tracked. The majority of the time, House members focused on two main topics: the lack of crypto asset regulation and the environmental, social and governance (ESG) proposals that have been tabled by the SEC. Neither of these topics were approached in a rational manner by the majority of politicians on either side of the aisle.

I’m not going into politics here because that is dangerous territory, but the point I’m making is that if the House is there to ensure that finreg is being drafted along the right lines (and not, as it always seems to appear, to act as a political point scoring mechanism), then these meetings need to be focused and conducted in a civil manner. The chair of a regulatory body is not a pinata to be beaten with a political point scoring stick.

If the meeting had focused on some of the more important (in the scheme of things) topics like the equity market structure proposals or swing pricing for that matter, more helpful conversations might be had. The point of the meeting is for the SEC to take into consideration the feedback provided, after all.

Topics such as crypto and ESG seem to bring out the worst in people and yelling always seems to be the end outcome. Perhaps, these should merit their own, likely lengthy, meetings, so that they don’t dominate the agenda. Maybe there should be more rules of the road for such meetings to discourage shouting and encourage individuals to listen to each other. I hear “the naughty step” is an effective approach in primary/elementary school – perhaps we need an equivalent for the politicians?

No doubt, these meetings are great for press headlines, but what they aren’t helpful for is sensible regulation. Let’s get past the sideshow and onto business please.