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如何确保花旗银行洗心革面

Eleanor Bloxham 2011年11月07日

美国联邦法官已要求SEC解释,与花旗银行之间的和解方案如何才能确保该行不会故态复萌,再次犯下误导客户的大错。本文的建议对SEC很有价值。

    有时候,头绪纷繁复杂,但其中有一个关系最为重大,足以决定一切的成败。上周,杰德•拉科夫法官要求美国证券交易委员会(SEC)解释,与花旗银行(Citigroup)达成的2.85亿美元和解方案如何才能保证花旗今后诚实对待客户?

    该和解方案针对的问题是:花旗银行被控在房地产市场危机爆发前夕曾经误导过抵押贷款证券投资者。有鉴于此,法官提出的问题合情合理。可是,表面上看来,SEC要回答这个问题并不容易,因此联邦法官是否会批准和解方案也就悬而未决。

    花旗2003年也曾与SEC达成一份和解协议,其中包括承诺公平而公开地向客户披露信息,可是,对于该公司治理与文化的实质性改革,最近这份和解协议要求甚少。要知道,最初正是公司治理方面的失败引发了种种问题。

    看来,拉科夫充分理解公司治理的重要性。他曾经负责世通公司(WorldCom)破产一案,并指派前SEC主席理查德•布里登担任法庭监督人员。这总破产案的副产品是一系列公司治理方面的建议,明智的董事会应当以此为准绳,可事实上他们总是抗拒不已。

    那么,在这个最新的案例中,SEC将如何回应呢?拉科夫又该注意什么?

以前的补救措施为何无效?

    花旗银行董事会有责任监管好公司的文化,而且,有两位董事早在2003年和解方案达成之前就已经在董事会任职,包括其董事长理查德•帕森斯。

    达成和解之后,花旗董事会采取了哪些行动来改变公司治理监管方式?显然,不管该董事会采取了什么补救措施,它们都说不上卓有成效,董事会应当重新进行评估,找出背后的原因。

    有可能董事会根本没有花费足够的时间来理解该行的工作文化,而是太过依赖于管理层的意见,或者说董事会本身就没有充分理解这一职责的关键性。

    Sometimes, in a sea of questions there is that one that makes all the difference. Last week, Judge Jed S. Rakoff asked the SEC to explain how its $285 million settlement with Citigroup would ensure that the bank would be upfront with its clients in the future.

    It's a fair question, given that the settlement is in response to charges that Citi (C) had misled its mortgage securities investors in the run up to the housing crisis. But at face value, the question may not be so easy for the SEC to answer, leaving the federal judge's approval of the settlement up in the air.

    Citi's 2003 settlement with the SEC also included a promise to provide fair and open disclosure to clients, but this recent settlement calls for little in the away of substantive reforms to the governance and culture at the company. But it is failures in governance that lead to these problems in the first place.

    Rakoff seems to understand just how important corporate governance can be. He oversaw the WorldCom bankruptcy and the appointment of former SEC chair Richard Breeden as court monitor. That case led to governance recommendations that boards would be wise to follow, but continue to resist.

    So how will the SEC respond and what should Rakoff be looking at in this latest case? Here's a start:

Why did previous remedies fail?

    Citi's board has a responsibility to oversee the company's culture. And two of its board directors have been on the board since before the 2003 settlement, including chairman Richard Parsons.

    What actions did the board take to change its cultural oversight after that settlement? Clearly, whatever remedies the board took have not been wholly effective and they should conduct a review to find out why.

    It's possible that the board has not spent enough time to understand the bank's work culture, relying too much on management's opinion, or the board itself may have failed to understand this critical responsibility.

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