Although a branch of a bank is not a separate juridical entity from the bank of which it is a component, U.S. law treats branches as separate from the head office and other branches of a bank when such differentiation is appropriate for various purposes. Branches are a hybrid structure, at the same time both an integral part of the banks of which they are merely offices and separate legal entities for a number of U.S. regulatory and commercial law purposes. This feature of bank branches is a central tenet of federal banking statutes, and the law governing U.S. branches of foreign banks in particular.
At times the status of a U.S. branch of a foreign bank under a particular statutory scheme is explicit. Such is the case with the U.S. law treatment of U.S. branches of foreign banks in insolvency. As discussed below, U.S. law treats those branches virtually as separate entities in insolvency.
In other circumstances, a particular statute does not explicitly address the status of U.S. branches of foreign banks, and the treatment has to be arrived at through an analysis of the purpose of the statutory scheme. For example, as discussed below, after a long series of no-action letters, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued interpretive guidance providing that securities issued or guaranteed by U.S. branches of a foreign bank (but not its non-U.S. branches) could rely on the exemption from registration afforded to securities issued or guaranteed by a bank under Section 3(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”). Thus, U.S. branches can rely on the Section 3(a)(2) exemption while the bank itself is required to register to distribute its securities in the United States.
This paper will review the treatment of U.S. branches of foreign banks under a variety of statutory schemes and explore the rationale for that treatment.