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Oppenheimer reflects on financial crisis, five years on, and the Dodd-Frank "fix."

Deanna Oppenheimer, who saw the Seattle-based bank that she helped grow during her two decades there disappear in the 2008 financial meltdown while she was steering a respected old British bank successfully through the global crisis, thinks "a lot of good things have come out of that crisis."

 

But the woman regarded as one of the two most powerful women in banking by the time she returned home to Seattle in 2011 after five years at Barclay's transforming the global retail and business-banking divisions of the staid 350-year-old institution, isn't sure the Dodd-Frank bill is one of those "good things."

 

Deanna Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer, who had departed Washington Mutual after helping guide major acquisitions and dramatic expansion but before its ill-fated plunge into wholesale sub-prime lending,

says Dodd-Frank  "is excessive for everyone that is affected to fully comprehend and comply with."

 

 

Officially TheDodd-FrankWall Street Reform and Consumer ProtectionAct, the bill was passed by Congress as the far-reaching legislative response to financial excesses that helped bring about the Great Recession.

 

 

"The bill itself, as passed, was 848 pages compared with Sarbanes Oxley's 66 pages and 37 in Glass Steagall (the original Banking Act of 1933, written in part to address the financial excesses that led to the Great Depression)," Oppenheimer noted.

 

"The rules written by government agencies to enforce the law have gone into a much larger number, with the biggest that I've now uncovered being up to 15,000 pages, at about 40-to-60 percent complete 3 years into the process," she said.

 

"Any way you cut it, the legislation has resulted in more rule making than any other financial-services-regulation law by a mile," she added.

 

Oppenheimer, now CEO of Cameoworks LLC , a global retail and financial-services advisory firm she founded in Seattle two years ago,had joined the marketing department at Washington Mutual in 1985, five years after her graduation from University of Puget Sound, and soon began to advance through the ranks.

 

By 1990, the year Kerry Killinger was named CEO, she had become a key executive directly reporting to the man at the top, and remained a key aide to Killinger over the next 20 years, helping guide major acquisition decisions and the dramatic expansion of what had become simply WAMU, the nation's sixth largest bank.

 

When she left WAMU in 2005, she actually departed with no specific next step in mind, but Barclays quickly began wooing her to move to London and by the third pitch, she decided to accept.

 

I shared with her my view that two things had helped contribute to the transformation I saw in Killinger and his bank over the 15 years I knew him. First was the twin roles he held as chairman and CEO because of the way he came to wield power over his board, and the second was a board whose skills were left wanting as WAMU grew from a quiet, regional thrift to a major national financial institution.

 

Without directly addressing my points, Oppenheimer said: "Good governance in the UK now requires separation of the two roles while, in the U.S., combining the roles is still accepted as good-governance."

 

"But if the roles are combined, that dual role shouldn't continue on indefinitely, and there needs to be a really strong independent director," she said. "And the board needs to have regular executive sessions where CEO-chair is not in the room and board members have a chance to say to each other, 'are we feeling good about everything?'"

 

And regarding board quality, Oppenheimer noted that one of those "good things" coming out of the financial crisis is the requirement in the UK that boards are required to do periodic self-examination.

"The question in that self-examination is: does this board have the skills required to run this company," she explained. "It's not just financial-services companies but all companies."

 

Oppenheimer has intentionally kept a low profile since her return to Seattle as she has instead sought to grow Cameoworks' list of client companies, which she described as mostly technology and retail businesses, and focused on her work on the boards of three global companies.

 

But in addition to sitting down to visit for this column, slightly more than five years on from the Fed's seizure of WAMU and sale to  JPMorgan Chase, she participated last week in Seattle on a financial-services panel exploring how financial firms might fit into the Seattle area's future.

 

As we discussed that topic, Oppenheimer said "Seattle is not viewed as a financial-services center and traditional financial services are not going to grow here."

 

"When business people in other parts of the world think of Seattle, they think of innovation, and when they visit here, they soon talk about customer service," she said.

 

But she thinks Seattle could become a center for the convergence of financial services and technology, noting "Starbucks has one of the largest digital wallets, Amazon has applicable innovations and a number of smaller companies are emerging as well."

 

As the financial comeback continues, Oppenheimer thinks a key step necessary "is getting the consistency of regulation back."

"There's more unified regulation coming out of Europe," she added. "Here we need to get regulators and regulations settled into some consistency.".

 

Asked about fear of a repeat of the financial meltdown, she said: "This scenario won't likely happen again, But what kind of possible scenario should we try to anticipate so we might plan for it? That's what we don't know."

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