Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- A one-page proposal gaining traction in Congress could turn back the clock on Wall Street 10 years, forcing the breakup of banks, including Citigroup Inc.
Lawmakers in both parties, seeking to prevent future financial crises while soothing public anger over bailouts and bonuses, are turning to an approach that’s both simple and transformative: re-imposing sections of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banking.
Those walls came down with passage of the Gramm-Leach- Bliley Act of 1999. A proposal to reconstruct them, made by U.S. Senators John McCain and Maria Cantwell on Dec. 16, would prevent deposit-taking banks from underwriting securities, engaging in proprietary trading, selling insurance or owning retail brokerages. The bill could also force the unwinding of deals consummated during the financial crisis, including Bank of America Corp.’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co.... See More
“The impact on Wall Street would be severe,” Wayne Abernathy, an executive vice president at the American Bankers Association, said in a telephone interview.
[...] Splitting banking functions needed for the smooth operation of the economy from riskier securities and trading activities was proposed earlier this year by the Group of Thirty, a nonprofit organization made up of former government officials and bankers, including Paul Volcker, a former Fed chairman and head of the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
The group said the crisis spread like a contagion from firm to firm, putting both commercial banks and securities companies at risk. To prevent a domino effect, systemically important financial institutions shouldn’t be allowed to engage in proprietary trading that involved “particularly high risks” or “serious conflicts of interest,” the group said.
While that would not bar banks from underwriting securities, as some U.S. lawmakers want, it might force them to shutter or sell trading divisions. The financial system has “failed the test of the marketplace,” Volcker said in January. He added that “it’s been proven that they’re unmanageable, the existing conglomerates.”