Trump to Nominate Quarles for Fed's Top Regulatory Post, Source Says

by Robert Schmidt and Jennifer Jacobs  April 17, 2017, 7:02 AM CDT April 17, 2017, 10:04 AM CDT

President Donald Trump plans to nominate Randal Quarles, a senior Treasury official in the Bush administration, to be the Federal Reserve’s top banking regulator, according to a person familiar with the selection process.

Currently a managing director at a Salt Lake City-based private equity firm, Quarles would bring a background in both domestic and international finance to the role, said the person who asked not to be named because no final decision has been made. He also has years of experience as a banking lawyer.

Trump’s expected nomination of Quarles would put an end to what has been a long, and sometimes arduous, search for the Fed’s vice chair of supervision. The Senate-confirmed post has great sway over JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other large banks. Quarles would be expected to play a pivotal role in carrying out Trump’s pledge to ease some of the regulatory constraints that were put on banks after the 2008 financial crisis.

The selection would reflect “the pendulum shifting from tougher regulation to neutral,” Mike Mayo, an independent bank analyst, said in a Monday interview with Bloomberg Television.

White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom and a spokeswoman for Quarles didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Wealthy Families

Quarles, 59, joined the Treasury in 2002 as an assistant secretary for international affairs. He was later elevated to undersecretary for domestic finance. At the end of 2006, Quarles left the department and went to Carlyle Group LP where he specialized in investing in the financial services industry. Prior to his time in George W. Bush’s administration, Quarles was a partner at the Davis, Polk & Wardwell law firm. He graduated from Columbia University and has a degree from Yale Law School.

In his current post at the Cynosure Group, Quarles helps invest money from wealthy families, including the Eccles family of Utah. Quarles is married to Hope Eccles. Another member of the family, Marriner Eccles, was Fed chairman from 1934 to 1948, and one of the buildings at the central bank’s Washington headquarters is named after him.

If confirmed by the Senate, Quarles might pursue a measured approach to revamping bank rules implemented under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, rather than a wholesale dismantling of them.

In a May 2015 interview with Bloomberg Television, he said a lot of provisions in the law were poorly designed, but he conceded that it will be “with us for a long time.” Quarles added that he was sympathetic to some of the post-crisis pressures that led to Congress approving Dodd-Frank, while arguing that in some ways the legislation didn’t go far enough.

“You could have responded to those pressures with a more aggressive restructuring of the financial-regulatory structure of the country without some of the particular provisions that aren’t well designed and were included for political rather than financial-regulatory reasons," he said in the Bloomberg interview.

Administration Discord

If confirmed by the Senate, Quarles would be the first ever Fed supervision chief. Dodd-Frank created the position in 2010, though former President Barack Obama never nominated anyone to fill it. Trump officials have been interviewing candidates since late last year, before the president took office. The choice had been bogged down by a lack of agreement among the president’s advisers and industry lobbying, people familiar with the matter have said.

General Electric Co. executive David Nason, who had been National Economic Council chief Gary Cohn’s favored pick, withdrew his name in early March. Other candidates who had emerged since then included Washington attorney Thomas Vartanian and Hal Scott, a Harvard Law School professor and noted critic of regulation.

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The Fed vice chairman sits on the central bank’s seven-member board of governors, meaning the role gets a vote on U.S. interest rates. Quarles would likely be an advocate for rule-based monetary policy, in which rate decisions are formulaic and tied to changes in inflation, employment and other economic data. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling is among Republican lawmakers who’ve advocated for using that kind of approach for years in setting interest rates.

Crazy Policy

“If you’re going to be transparent in an activity like the Fed, you have to be much more rule-based in what you’re doing,” Quarles said in a November 2015 interview with Bloomberg Television. Basing decisions on the influence and views of Fed officials is “a crazy way to run a railroad for the Federal Reserve,” he said.

Though the Fed is one of several regulators that oversee the largest U.S. banks, it has the longest reach. During Obama’s presidency, it took the lead in implementing post-crisis reforms and dramatically ratcheting up Washington’s scrutiny of Wall Street.

Under Obama, Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo handled the vice chair of supervision’s duties on an unofficial basis until his departure earlier this month. He triggered endless consternation from Wall Street by pushing through tough capital standards, restricting risky trades and subjecting banks to rigorous stress tests to evaluate whether they could endure another severe economic slump.

Even though the position comes with the title of vice chairman, the supervision chief’s powers are not absolute. Fed Chair Janet Yellen controls what policies governors vote on, meaning she could easily thwart efforts to free banks from tough rules, at least until her term ends in February 2018.