Insight: Banks bristle at breakup call from Sandy Weill

Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:06am EDT
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By Lauren Tara LaCapra, Rick Rothacker and David Henry

(Reuters) - Sandy Weill has a lot of convincing to do.

The former Citigroup Inc CEO, who was in many ways the architect of the "too big to fail" giant bank system, dropped a bombshell on Wall Street on Wednesday by proposing that universal banks should be broken up because they are too big and complex to manage.

But the idea is hardly resonating with top bankers and dealmakers of the past 20 years.

"I don't buy it," said William Harrison, who was succeeded by Jamie Dimon as chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. "It gets back to management and risk-taking, and you can screw that up at a small bank or a large bank."

Harrison, a Weill contemporary who was instrumental in building JPMorgan into the largest U.S. bank, said in an interview on Thursday that he would hate to see the anger toward bankers lead to a breakup of big banks and the efficiencies they bring to the U.S. financial system.

Other Wall Street sources said the idea is also not new.

During the financial crisis, for example, U.S. regulators asked Citigroup to do an analysis about whether it would make sense to separate its commercial and investment banking operations, a source familiar with the situation said.

But consulting firm Bain & Co, which was hired by Citigroup to do a study, concluded that tax considerations made a breakup inefficient, the source said.   Continued...

Sanford "Sandy" Weill, chairman and chief executive officer of Citigroup, attends a ceremony in Shanghai to mark Citibank's initiation of foreign currency services to Chinese customers on March 21, 2002. REUTERS/China Photo