Later in Mr. Obama’s second term, Mr. Zients chaired the National Economic Council, where he introduced new regulations to combat payday loans and led the development of what is known as the fiduciary rule – a requirement that financial professionals place on their interests for clients with retirement accounts before their own. The Department of Labor rule, which has been heavily challenged by the financial services and insurance industries, was overturned by a federal appeals court in 2018.
These efforts earned him awards from some progressive Democrats.
“Government needs talent and experience,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, which promotes Wall Street reform, and a member of Mr Biden’s bid review team for Fed, Banks and Securities regulators. “People who are going to try to regulate an industry as complicated as finance cannot say that we will only hire people who don’t know anything about finance.”
But its role as a bridge to business during the Obama administration raised some eyebrows. Mr. Zients was a key government point of contact for executives and lobbyists when Wall Street anger over the 2007-08 financial crisis was at its height. Top lobbyists like the Business Roundtable and the US Chamber of Commerce have praised Mr. Zients as someone who has heard them.
Mr. Zients described his desire to listen to business leaders at an event held at the Economic Club of Washington in 2014 to executives: “You are the customers, all of you as business leaders, in terms of growing the economy.”
After Mr. Obama left office, Mr. Zients joined private equity investor Vincent Mai as chief executive of the Cranemere fund. The private holding company has investors from the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East and takes a long-term investment approach modeled on Warren E. Buffett.
Mr. Zients, who is on leave from Cranemere, also served on Facebook’s board of directors for two years and was a member of the company’s audit committee. He has told people that he has concerns about the direction and direction of the company and has decided not to seek re-election to the board this year. Facebook has been targeted by Democrats for allowing disinformation to spread and Republicans for accusing it of censorship.
Jeff Hauser, the director of the Revolving Door Project, said Mr. Zients’ experience in private equity and on Facebook was particularly problematic and could pose problems for progressive purposes in a Biden White House. And while he sees Mr. Zients’ experience in the health care industry as useful in managing the pandemic response, Mr. Hauser said he was concerned that Mr. Zients might be too accommodating for the business with introducing vaccines over the next year.