U.S. banking regulation resembles a cat-and-mouse game of industry change and regulatory response. Often, a crisis or industry innovation will lead to a new regulatory regime. Past regulatory regimes have included geographic restrictions, activity restrictions, disclosure mandates, risk management rules, and capital requirements. But the recently enacted Dodd-Frank Act introduced a new strain of banking-industry supervision: regulation by hypothetical. Regulation by hypothetical refers to rules that require banks to predict future crises and weaknesses. Those predictions—which by definition are speculative—become the basis for regulatory intervention. Two illustrative instances of this regulation were codified in Dodd-Frank: stress tests and living wills. They are two pillars on which Dodd-Frank builds to manage risk in systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs).  As I argue in my forthcoming article, regulation by hypothetical in Dodd-Frank should be abandoned for three reasons: it relies on a faulty premise, tasks an agency with a conflicted mission, and likely exacerbates the moral hazards involved with governmental sponsorship of private institutions. Because of these weaknesses, the regulation-by-hypothetical regime must be either abandoned (my first choice) or strengthened. One way to strengthen these hypothetical scenarios would be to conduct financial war games.
Posts Tagged ‘SIFIs’
In a comment letter and supporting paper to the FDIC on its single-point-of-entry (SPOE) resolution concept release, Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics, argues that SPOE is conceptually sound and statutorily robust. However, progress to date on orderly liquidation has been so cautious as to cloud the credibility of assertions that the largest U.S. financial institutions, especially the biggest banks, are no longer too big to fail (“TBTF”). Crafting a new resolution regime is of course a complex undertaking that benefits from as much consensus as possible. However, if definitive action is not quickly taken on a policy construct for single-point-of-entry resolutions resolving high-level questions about its practicality and functionality under stress, markets will revert to TBTF expectations that renew market distortions, place undue competitive pressure on small firms, and stoke systemic risk. Even more dangerous, the FDIC may not be ready when systemic risk strikes again.
Questions addressed in detail in the paper and Ms. Petrou’s answers to them are summarized below:
Ever since the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research (“OFR”) released its report on Asset Management and Financial Stability in September 2013 (“OFR Report” or “Report”), the industry has vigorously opposed its central conclusion that the activities of the asset management industry as a whole make it systemically important and may pose a risk to US financial stability.
Several members of Congress have also voiced concern with the OFR Report’s findings, particularly during recent Congressional hearings, as have commissioners of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Further complicating matters, a senior official of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) recently expressed alarm about banks working with alternative asset managers or shadow banks on “weak” leveraged lending deals.
On December 10, 2013, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the “FDIC”) proposed for public comment a notice (the “Notice”) describing its “Single Point of Entry” (“SPOE”) strategy for resolving systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”) in default or in danger of default under the orderly liquidation authority granted by Title II of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”).  The Notice follows the FDIC’s endorsement of the SPOE model in its joint paper issued with the Bank of England last year.
Today an enormous global civilization rests upon a jury-rigged financial frame rife with moral hazards, perverse incentives, and unintended consequences. This article, SIFIs and States, forthcoming in the Texas International Law Journal, addresses one aspect of that fragile structure. It argues for basic reform in the international management of financial institutions in distress, with a special emphasis on SIFIs (Systemically Important Financial Institutions). The goal is to examine public institutional arrangements for resolution of financial institutions in the midst of a crisis, rather than the substantive rules governing the resolution process. The proposition central to this article is that the resolution of major financial institutions in serious distress will generally require substantial infusions of public money, at least temporarily. The home jurisdiction for a given financial institution must furnish the bulk of the public funds necessary for the successful resolution of its financial distress. The positive effect is that other jurisdictions may be likely to acquiesce in the leadership of the funding jurisdiction in exchange for acceptance of that financial responsibility. On the other hand, acceptance of the funding obligation would have profound consequences for the state as well as the institution, because the default of a SIFI may threaten the financial stability of that state. Until the crisis of 2007-2008, all that was implicit and unexamined in the political process; to a large extent it remains so.
Overview of U.S. Liquidity Coverage Ratio Proposal
- The Federal Reserve, OCC and FDIC have issued a proposal to implement the Basel III liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) in the United States.
- Part of the Basel III liquidity framework, the LCR requires a banking organization to maintain a minimum amount of liquid assets to withstand a 30-day standardized supervisory liquidity stress scenario.
- The U.S. LCR proposal is more stringent than the Basel Committee’s LCR framework in several significant respects.
- The U.S. LCR proposal contains two versions of the LCR:
- A full version for large, internationally active banking organizations.
- A modified, “light” version for other large bank holding companies and savings and loan holding companies (depository institution holding companies).
- The proposed effective date is January 1, 2015, subject to a two-year phase-in period.
- The comment period for the proposal ends on January 31, 2014.
Which Organizations Are Affected?
A critical policy question is the extent to which “systemic” banks provide value from an economic or social perspective. Much research has been mobilized to demonstrate this, as well as to counter these findings to argue that the biggest banks enjoy undue subsidies because they are so systemic as to be protected by taxpayers. Markets may indeed perceive some big banks as too big to fail (TBTF), but perception does not make reality. Thus, this paper assesses how a systemic financial institution can be differentiated from others to inform the debate over policy responses to TBTF and pending regulatory actions and U.S. legislation to govern the largest financial institutions. Quite simply, if there are no reliable, objective systemic criteria, then policy based on size thresholds or other “systemic” indicators will be at best ineffective antidotes to global financial crises even as they do unnecessary damage to banks and, more broadly, to financial-market efficiency and effectiveness.
In this paper, we assess the ability of regulators to define the criteria that characterize systemically-important financial institutions (SIFIs). The definition of systemic is critical since an array of rules predicated on the negative externalities of SIFIs is under active development. Further, allegations that “systemic” firms, most notably very large bank holding companies (BHCs), are TBTF have aroused calls for additional, generally punitive action for designated institutions.
In a June 3, 2013 closed-door meeting, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC”) voted to propose the designation of three financial services companies—American International Group (“AIG”), Prudential Financial and GE Capital—as the first systemically significant nonbank financial institutions (“nonbank SIFIs”) under section 113 of the Dodd-Frank Act.
The FSOC decision, announced by the Treasury Secretary, did not identify specific names, but all three companies publicly confirmed their proposed nonbank SIFI status. If these proposed designations become final, these three companies will become the first nonbank SIFIs to be subjected to stringent Federal Reserve Board oversight and supervision, as well as capital and other regulatory requirements, under Title I of the Dodd-Frank Act. In addition, these designations will bring to life the Dodd-Frank Act’s orderly liquidation authority that applies to systemically significant financial firms, in the event that one of these companies may fail or be in danger of failing in the future.
The FSOC’s action to begin the process of designating nonbank SIFIs has been long awaited—some would say long-overdue—and the identities of the three companies that have been proposed for SIFI designation come as no real surprise. Nonetheless, the FSOC’s action marks an important milestone in the implementation of the Dodd- Frank Act’s systemic regulation framework. While the actual significance of these designations likely will emerge more clearly in the coming weeks and months, the FSOC’s action brings into sharper focus the questions and challenges that the designated firms and their regulators will face.
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.
On March 26, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (“Basel Committee”) published a Consultative Document in which it proposes a revised supervisory framework for measuring and controlling large counterparty exposures (“Proposal,” or “Exposure Framework”) of systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”). Comments on the Proposal are due by June 28, 2013.