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Wall Street Reform Bill Debate to Cover Office of Financial Research

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Up until now, the proposals for the creation of a reference data utility in the form of the Office of Financial Research have largely passed under the radar during the regulatory reform debates in the US. However, data issues are set to be a key topic of discussion this week with the Office of Financial Research and living wills on the agenda for the regulatory conference on the Wall Street reform bill.

The Office of Financial Research debate is categorised under the headline of “technical expertise” and is due for discussion today. The plan to establish the new office within the Treasury to be staffed with a “highly sophisticated staff of economists, accountants, lawyers, former supervisors, and other specialists to support the council’s work by collecting financial data and conducting economic analysis” has, thus far, failed to provoke much in the way of political debate.

However, given his previous criticism of the proposed government funding of the utility, US Republican senator Richard Shelby is sure to raise some issues. He is concerned that the utility will be granted “unprecedented authority, including abilities to obtain virtually any type of data it wants from financial companies, to the level of detail of what you buy on your credit card.” Moreover, he feels that the very fact it is aimed at helping Wall Street firms to cut down their data costs with public money is flawed.

If the issue has failed to raise few other questions thus far within political circles, it is likely because of a lack of appreciation of the scale of the challenge facing those charged with setting up such a utility. The same cannot be said of the industry, which has been struggling with reference data challenges and a lack of standardisation for decades. The scepticism with which many in the industry view the utility proposals is in accordance with this experience and a fear that the naivety of the regulatory community may pose a threat to the industry as a whole. The imposition of regulatory defined standards is not considered desirable by many, although the backing of the regulator in helping to increase the usage of current standard formats would be much better received.

For now, the political discussion about the Office of Financial Research remains on its potential to help the regulatory community track systemic risk, rather than its wider impact on the market. As noted by the conference plan: “Through the Office of Financial Research and member agencies the council will collect and analyse data to identify and monitor emerging risks to the economy and make this information public in periodic reports and testimony to Congress every year.”

Greater risk transparency is certainly a key focus for the regulators but more consideration should certainly be given to how making this information public will impact the financial services industry. Check back next week to see if any of these issues are raised (odds on they won’t be).

A full list of the topics up for debate is available here.

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