Obama’s war on banks expected to prompt flurry of regulatory work

The President’s proposals would see sweeping reforms take place across the industry, forcing some of the world’s biggest banks to undergo major restructuring work.

Potential changes include placing a limit on the size of banks and preventing deposit-taking banks from “owning, investing in or sponsoring” hedge funds or private equity groups.

Clifford Chance banking regulation partner Chris Bates said the news could re-shape the banking landscape, although there is still little flesh on the bones of the plans.

“Banks in five years’ time will not look like they do now,” he said. “What’s clear is that they won’t be structured as they used to be, and if they do have to restructure it’ll mean a large amount of work for lawyers.

“The striking thing is how little detail there is around the proposal. A liability cap is interesting, but the thing is what level they set the cap at.”

Bates added that any prohibition placed on banks’ ability to invest in private equity houses would not necessarily threaten their legal advisers.

He added: “All that would happen is that the private equity and hedge fund part [of banks] would be restricted, but the business will not go away – it’s just that the ownership would change.”

Another partner at a top City firm with experience advising on banking restructuring agreed that the final terms of any legislation might not be as wide ranging or as harsh as the initial proposals suggest.

“If I was a betting man I would go out and buy bank shares,” he said. “The proposals could be read in a number of different ways and some are quite narrow.

“This is just the first shot. Congress will get involved with lobbying from a range of groups and some form of compromise will emerge.

“A lot of this is about the US mid-term elections; if this doesn’t get done before who knows where it’ll go.”