U.S. financial groups, wary of crackdown, feel out Biden transition team

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Financial lobbyists, kept at arm’s length by Joe Biden’s campaign, have begun engaging with the Democratic president-elect’s transition team on issues including economic stimulus, pandemic aid programs, and appointees, according to more than a dozen executives at banks and financial lobby groups.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden receives a national security briefing in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

Some industry executives had worried they may struggle to access Biden’s transition team after his campaign had largely warned off lobbyists pushing policy asks and pledged to crack down on influence-peddling if he won. But recently Biden’s transition team has approached financial groups and lobbyists to discuss policy and regulation issues, three people said.

In addition to these formal meetings, other industry executives said they had been able to chat informally with long-established contacts, including policy experts and academics, now acting as unpaid advisers to the transition team.

With progressives pushing Biden to reverse Trump’s corporate giveaways, install hard-charging financial regulators and ramp-up consumer protections and climate-risk measures, financial executives hope the access may help avert an industry crackdown.

Richard Hunt, chief executive of the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA), which represents big lenders including Bank of America Corp BAC.N, Citigroup Inc C.N, and Wells Fargo & CoWFC.N, said Biden’s team recently approached the CBA to discuss its priorities.

“They just want to sit down and get our thoughts about the status of financial regulation, and of course we’re happy to share with them,” said Hunt. “It’s great they reached out, it’s great there’s communications.”

While it is common for a new administration to seek policy input from corporate groups, Biden’s team is being more cautious in its dealings with corporate lobbyists than President Donald Trump’s administration, which was criticized for being too cozy with lobbyists and appointing several to senior roles.

Corporate executives and lobbyists said that when talking with Biden’s team they had flagged policy concerns, but had generally steered clear of pushing wish lists or making demands.

Issues discussed included housing finance, climate change, consumer protections and agency appointees. But conversations were generally dominated by the more urgent issues of economic stimulus, pandemic relief and fixing problems with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the people said.

“We’ve shared other thoughts … but the bulk of it has been on what’s been happening with the pandemic and pandemic relief,” said Brad Thaler, vice president of legislative affairs at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions.

“The campaign and transition have indicated that that’s high on their list, so we’re trying to engage and work with them.”

Trump’s refusal to concede the election, a stance backed by some senior Republicans, has also complicated matters. Some lobbyists fret that appearing to court the Biden team could attract the ire of congressional allies or even Trump’s Twitter feed. Three sources said they were waiting for the dust to settle.

The Biden transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

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The financial industry enjoyed a bonanza under Trump officials who relaxed rules which they said were overly burdensome and hurt the economy. While Biden said relatively little on financial policy during his campaign, his administration is expected to be much tougher and some of his transition appointments have rattled the industry.

Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden aide heading up the team, has previously advocated for breaking up big banks and has criticized excessive corporate influence in Washington. Julie Siegel, another senior team member, was formerly a top adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading Wall Street critic. And several of the team’s voluntary advisers on financial regulation have campaigned for much stricter rules across the industry.

“Progressives fought for and got a seat at the table. We’re going to move as an industry from a relatively benign regulatory environment to a much more challenging one,” said Scott Stewart, chief executive of the Innovative Lending Platform Association, whose fintech members typically service more low-income Americans and minority-owned businesses than traditional banks.

“But we think we have a really good story to tell of the populations that we’re reaching,” said Stewart. He added that his group had been in communication with the Biden team and some agencies to sound them out on their plans, particularly on consumer protection and PPP issues.

Likewise, Hunt said he believed banks’ role in dishing out PPP loans had improved their image among Democrats, and that the industry’s perspective would be heard.

“It’s a very different environment, we’re not in the crosshairs anymore.”

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