Transactions that reduce regulatory capital requirements for banks have recently come under media and regulatory scrutiny. The New York Times characterized them as a “trading sleight of hand.” The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision has proposed limiting the ways in which capital requirements can be reduced by such transactions. This post discusses the new Basel proposals in light of prior guidance published by Basel and the Federal Reserve. As banks seek ways to meet heightened capital requirements and surcharges that are being implemented, they may find greater difficulties in reducing their exposures.
Posts Tagged ‘Financial Regulation’
Chairman McHenry, Ranking Member Green, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on Sections 165 and 121 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act). Our testimony will focus on the FDIC’s role and progress in implementing Section 165, including the resolution plan requirements and the requirements for stress testing by certain financial institutions.
Section 165 of the Dodd-Frank Act
Under the Dodd-Frank Act, bankruptcy is the preferred resolution framework in the event of a systemic financial company’s failure. To make this prospect achievable, Title I of the Dodd-Frank Act requires that all large, systemic financial companies prepare resolution plans, or “living wills”, to demonstrate how the company would be resolved in a rapid and orderly manner under the Bankruptcy Code in the event of the company’s material financial distress or failure. This requirement enables both the firm and the firm’s regulators to understand and address the parts of the business that could create systemic consequences in a bankruptcy.
The FDIC intends to make the living will process under Title I of the Dodd-Frank Act both timely and meaningful. The living will process is a necessary and significant tool in ensuring that large financial institutions can be resolved through the bankruptcy system.
Treasury officials have recently suggested that the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) may soon designate the first round of systemically significant nonbank financial companies (Nonbank SIFIs). In March, Under Secretary for Domestic Finance Miller and Deputy Assistant Secretary for the FSOC Gerety stated that designations could occur “in the next few months.”
Moreover, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve) recently finalized its rule on determining when a company is “predominantly engaged in financial activities,” thus making the company potentially subject to FSOC designation. The final rule is notable for stating that an investment firm that does not comply with the Merchant Banking Rule’s investment holding periods and routine management and operation limitations may nonetheless be determined, on a case- by-case basis, to be engaging in “financial activities.” In addition, the final rule rejected the argument that mutual funds — including money market mutual funds — are “not engaged in a financial activity” and therefore not capable of designation.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has issued a proposed regulation intended to address an emerging issue in international banking: how to grant non-US branch deposits equal treatment with US deposits in the event of the bank’s insolvency. Below are both big-picture and technical issues that need to be addressed in order to make the proposal effective.
The proposed regulation would effectively grant deposit status at non-US branches of US insured banks to deposits booked there for purposes of the depositor preference provisions of Federal law.  Its purpose is to provide the benefits of depositor preference status to deposits in branches in other countries. Depositor preference simply means that, in the liquidation of the bank, deposits will be paid ahead of non-deposit unsecured creditors, thereby increasing significantly the likelihood of full or almost-full repayment. This issue has been spotlighted by the United Kingdom, which has proposed to require that UK branches of foreign banks be entitled to depositor preference under their home country insolvency rules or provide clear disclosure of its absence to their depositors. This requirement, if implemented, might create an incentive for US banks to take such steps as making their US offices liable for repayment of such deposits; these would be so-called “dual-office” deposits, in which both a US and a non-US office would be liable for repayment.
Mammoth bank holding companies (BHCs) have contributed to the 2008 crisis. Their “contribution” may stem from their structure.
Most BHCs are not banks but “financial malls,” of “shops” serving as brokers-dealers, underwriters, advisers (to mutual funds, trust funds, and wealthy individuals), banks proper, insurance, lending, “securitizers,” guarantors and traders for the BHCs’ own account, and more. A BHC owns the mall’s financial shops, collects their revenues, and raises funds from investors. Its management finances the shops and rewards shop managers. Managing the variety of shops that closely reflect the entire financial system is difficult. Not surprisingly, BHCs periodically produce enormous profits and bear enormous losses.
Compare BHCs structure to other malls: In business malls, mall owners serve all the shops’ needs. But these shops (pharmacies or restaurants) have different owners, customers, and regulators. Mutual fund “malls” are serviced by one adviser but owned by investors. Displeased investors can decimate their funds by redeeming their shares. Under the structure of Vanguard, the largest in the United States today, the shops—the funds (their investors) own the mall, and pay for its services. As to performance, each fund “sits on its own bottom,” judged by its shareholders, rather than by a management or a holding company’s shareholders. Yet, a fund’s failure does not shake the economy and taxpayers do not bear the cost.
The BHC structural model raises serious disadvantages for their investors, and for the financial system, against which current regulation does not effectively protect:
On April 3, the Federal Reserve Board (“Board”) published a final rule (“Rule”) specifying when a financial company that may be made subject to systemic regulation under Title I of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Accountability and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank Act”) is “predominantly engaged in financial activities” for purposes of being designated for systemic regulation under the Dodd-Frank Act. The Rule is effective on May 6, 2013.
As discussed below, the net effect of the Rule would be to expand the types of activities that might qualify as financial activities for purposes of applying the “predominantly engaged” test, and thus broaden the population of large nonbank firms that might be designated as systemically important financial firms, under the Dodd-Frank Act. Accordingly, large nonbank financial firms should pay close attention to the Rule’s requirements and its potential impact on them.
On March 22, 2013, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (FRB), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) (collectively, the “bank regulators”) released their final guidance on leveraged lending activities.  The final guidance does not deviate significantly from the proposed guidance released last year on March 26, 2012, but does attempt to provide clarity in response to the many comment letters relating to the proposed guidance received by the bank regulators. The final guidance is the latest revision and update to the interagency leveraged finance guidance first issued in April 2001. 
Euro Area banks need credible financial backstops. The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) could contribute to the performance of this function but the direct recapitalization of Euro Area banks from this source has been made conditional upon common, high quality prudential supervision. Centralised supervision of the banking sector in the Euro Area is intended to be accomplished through the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), the first step towards a future banking union.
Within the SSM, the ultimate authority and responsibility for specific supervisory tasks related to the safety and stability of all Euro Area banks will sit with the European Central Bank (ECB). This approach has been driven by pragmatism and realpolitik, rather than abstract principle: the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) already caters for the possibility of the ECB conducting supervisory tasks with respect to banks, while in the post-crisis reforms central bank direct involvement in prudential supervision has come back strongly into favour. But just because it was the best option realistically available does not mean that equipping the ECB with the legal authority to act as a prudential supervisor has been a straightforward task. Any evaluation of this new system must take careful account of the boundaries of the legal space within which institutional progress was possible, and give credit for the legal ingenuity deployed. Nevertheless, compromises in certain areas and unresolved tensions in others provide reasons for unease as to the likely effectiveness of the new system.
Having transformed U.S. bank regulation, Dodd-Frank implementation is now reshaping bank corporate governance. Recent rulemakings and proposals by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve) point to a far more prescriptive approach to corporate governance for significant bank holding companies and significant foreign banking organizations with U.S. operations (FBOs) than traditionally has been the case. This approach should also be expected to apply to systemically significant nonbank financial companies (Nonbank SIFIs) designated by the Financial Stability Oversight Council.
In addition, Dodd-Frank has allowed regulators to expand their toolkit for dealing with perceived corporate governance failings, and so non-compliance with the new governance requirements may lead to greater supervisory consequences.
Below, we describe the principal new responsibilities that boards of directors and senior management should expect under the Federal Reserve’s new supervisory regime, as well as the increased penalties that may be imposed if those responsibilities are not met.
Banks are special, so is corporate governance of banks. It differs considerably from general corporate governance. Specific corporate governance needs exist also for insurance companies and other financial institutions. This article, Better Governance of Financial Institutions, analyzes the economic, legal and comparative research on governance of financial institutions and covers the reforms by the European Commission, the European Banking Authority, CDR IV and Solvency II up to the end of 2012. External corporate governance, in particular by the market of corporate control (takeovers), is more important for firms than for banks, at least under continental European practice.
For financial institutions, the scope of corporate governance goes beyond the shareholders (equity governance) to include debtholders, insurance policy holders and other creditors (debt governance). Some include the state as stakeholder, but the role of the state is better understood as setting the rules of the game in a regulated industry. From the perspective of supervision debt governance is the primary governance concern. Equity governance and debt governance face partly parallel and partly divergent interests of management, shareholders, debtholders and other creditors, and supervisors. Economic theory and practice show that management tends to be risk-averse for lack of diversification but may be more risk-prone because of equity-based compensation in end games and under similar circumstances. Shareholders are risk-prone and interested in corporate governance. Debtholders are risk-averse and interested in debt governance. Supervisors are risk-averse and interested in maintaining financial stability and in particular in preventing systemic crises.