Warren: New Wall Street chat system could skirt oversight

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Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWATCH LIVE: Warren campaigns for Clinton in NH Fifteen years since pivotal executive order, STORM Act could help fight terror finance Wells Fargo scandal should be major campaign issue MORE (D-Mass.) is airing concerns that a new communications tool developed by major Wall Street banks could be used to skirt government probes.

In letters sent to six financial regulators Monday, Warren asked for details about how they planned to handle the arrival of the Symphony messaging system, a new online chat system backed by some of the biggest names in finance.

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Warren singled out some of the marketing language on Symphony’s website as suggesting with “a wink and a nod” that it could be used to evade government oversight.

But the problematic examples cited by Warren have disappeared from Symphony’s website.

For example, Warren said in her letter that Symphony used to claim on its website that “communication tools designed for the financial services sector were limited in reach and effectiveness by strict regulatory compliance.”

But when that same page was accessed by The Hill Monday, after Warren’s letter became public, that language was nowhere to be found. Instead, it now says Symphony can meet the needs of financial firms “while maintaining their regulatory compliance and security.”

Warren also said Symphony used to tout its tool would help “prevent government spying,” and that it has “designed a specific set of procedures to guarantee that data deletion is permanent.”

None of that language is still on Symphony site, and in the area detailing data security, the firm says its data disposal is “in accordance with US government guidance.”

Warren’s letter said her staff accessed Symphony’s site in July. A Symphony representative said the website was updated on August 3, and emphasized that regulators should still be able to access messages from its clients going forward.

"Symphony delivers messages to its clients to download, decrypt, and archive, and they are able to provide those messages to regulators just as they would with other compliant messaging systems," said a company spokesperson.

Warren said she was concerned Wall Street banks could use the new messaging tool as a way to help prevent regulators from accessing internal communications, especially after many high-profile financial crime cases were built on just that.

As an example, she cited the string of probes and penalties tied to the manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), a key benchmark interest rate.

Investigators in the U.S. and other countries frequently cited chat communications among bank employees to build their cases, which has reaped over $6 billion in fines and 14 years in jail time for one trader so far.

She asked regulators to detail how they planned to approach this new tool and whether they had any concerns about what it could mean for compliance and enforcement in the future.

Many of the biggest names in finance, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Blackrock, have taken stakes totaling billions of dollars in the company, which becomes broadly available in September.

Letters were sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Department of Justice, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Securities and Exchange Commission.

In July, New York’s head financial regulator also pressed Symphony for details ahead of its official launch. Anthony J. Albanese sent a letter to the company, asking for details on its practices and requesting a meeting with the firm to discuss in further detail.

This post updated Aug. 11 at 7:41am to include comment from Symphony.