Decoding the Dodd-Frank: Understanding Trump's Latest Executive Orders

Following a series of controversial Executive Orders within the first few weeks of his presidency, President Trump signed two more on Friday, February 3rd that show he intends to issue a review of the Dodd-Frank Act, as well as delay the implementation of the Fiduciary Rule. Both of these Obama-era regulations were direct responses to the global financial crisis of 2008. The Dodd-Frank Act, or the Wall-Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, is a 2,300-page piece of legislation first issued in 2010, with its’ provisions set to be put into place over the course of several years. Two of the most controversial regulatory bodies that the Dodd-Frank Act created are the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), as well as a special branch of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that solely reviews credit ratings. Along with the Dodd-Frank Act, the Fiduciary Rule was developed to make sure financial advisors would act in the best interest of their clients regarding retirement accounts, only selling financial products that matched the exact need of the client. The Fiduciary Rule differs from the Suitability Rule, which is more relaxed and allows advisors to sell financial products that are similar in meeting the needs of the client, but may not be the exact product that the client has requested. 

The review of the Dodd-Frank Act and the halting of the revisions in the Fiduciary Rule appear to be in line with the Trump administration’s determination to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act. Critics of the Dodd-Frank have claimed for years that its’ regulatory demands are too strict and uncompromising; while others state that repealing the legislation could result in another financial crisis akin to 2008’s collapse. Trump has additionally proposed bringing back a version of the Glass-Steagall Act, a financial regulatory legislation that was repealed in 1999. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who aided in writing portions of the Dodd-Frank Act, has also shown support for a re-institution of the Glass-Steagall Act. To note, the Glass-Steagall Act was issued in 1933 following The Great Depression, and separated investment banks from commercial banking activities. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act was a key factor in developing the conditions that allowed for the predatory, fraudulent lending in the subprime mortgage crisis, which in turn set off the global financial crisis of 2008. 

Trump has expressed his distaste for Dodd-Frank throughout his campaign, but in order to repeal it, he and his administration face considerable obstacles. To start, his memorandum to the Department of Labor for a review of Dodd-Frank and the Fiduciary Rule was vague in its’ aims. Regarding the review of the Dodd-Frank, the still-unconfirmed Treasury Secretary Steve Mneuchin is meant to meet with regulatory boards created by the Dodd-Frank, such as members of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, in 120 days. 

There is outrage and skepticism facing Trump’s decision to review, and perhaps repeal, the Dodd-Frank Act, with some claiming that this may spark a global pattern of deregulatory action. As a relatively new legislative action, it can be argued that a review of the Dodd-Frank is a good idea; the primary purpose of the Dodd-Frank is positive and helpful, but perhaps its’ functions could be more efficient. However, it appears that Trump’s administration is less inclined in maintaining fair regulations on the financial services industry, but only time will tell. Keeping banks and financial advisors accountable and honest through law is crucial, but as Robert K. Merton’s theory implies, the only law that’s never been broken is the law of unintended consequences.

If you are disheartened by Trump’s Executive Orders and his plans for the Dodd-Frank and Fiduciary Rule, this may ease your worries: once a rule is created within government, it takes many, many years to actually undo it. You can learn more about how undoing a rule works in this episode of Planet Money. 

To learn more about the financial crisis of 2008 and the effect the repeal of Glass-Steagall had on it, watch Charles Ferguson’s documentary Inside Job. Inside Job is available for streaming on Netflix.

Words: Staley Sharples