Chairman Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby and members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on the importance of reforming our financial regulatory system. Specifically, you have asked us to address the regulatory consolidation aspects of the Administration’s proposal and whether there should be further consolidation.
The proposals put forth by the Administration regarding the structure of the financial system and the supervision of financial entities provide a useful framework for discussion of areas in vital need of reform. The goal of any reforms should be to address the fundamental causes of the current crisis and to put in place a regulatory structure that guards against future crises.
There have been numerous proposals over the years to consolidate the federal banking regulators. This is understandable given the way in which the present system developed, responding to new challenges as they were encountered. While appealing in theory, these proposals have rarely gained traction because prudential supervision of FDIC insured banks has held up well in comparison to other financial sectors in the United States and against non-U.S. systems of prudential supervision. Indeed, this is evidenced by the fact that large swaths of the so-called shadow banking sector have collapsed back into the healthier insured sector, and U.S. banks — notwithstanding their current problems — entered this crisis with less leverage and stronger capital positions than their international competitors.
Today, we are again faced with proposals to restructure the bank regulatory system, including the suggestion of some to eliminate separate federal regulators for national- and state-chartered institutions. We have previously testified in support of a systemic risk council which would help assure coordination and harmonization in prudential standards among all types of financial institutions, including commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds, finance companies, and other potentially systemic financial entities to address arbitrage among these various sectors. We also have expressed support for a new consumer agency to assure strong rules and enforcement of consumer protection across the board. However, we do not see merit or wisdom in consolidating federal supervision of national and state banking charters into a single regulator for the simple reason that the ability to choose between federal and state regulatory regimes played no significant role in the current crisis.
One of the important causes of the current financial difficulties was the exploitation of the regulatory gaps that existed between banks and the non-bank shadow financial system, and the virtual non-existence of regulation of over-the-counter (OTC) derivative contracts. These gaps permitted lightly regulated or, in some cases, unregulated financial firms to engage in highly risky practices and offer toxic derivatives and other products that eventually infected the financial system. In the absence of regulation, such firms were able to take on risks and become so highly levered that the slightest change in the economy’s health had deleterious effects on them, the broader financial system, and the economy.
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