Welcome to The Vault. Every week you’ll find a sample of FedFin opinion and analysis on the most recent issues facing financial services firms. Check back frequently to see what’s new. Click here to contact us.

20 11, 2023

Karen Petrou: The Fate of the End-Game Rules Does not Lie in the FDIC’s Hands

2023-11-20T12:16:01-05:00November 20th, 2023|The Vault|

It’s a hard fact of life that nothing good comes to federal agencies caught up in scandal even when scandal is misplaced.  So the real question for the FDIC is whether the bad already all too evident at the divided banking agency will grow still worse, threatening the FDIC’s ability to participate in pending rulemakings or, even worse, resolutions.  It likely will be no accident if the FDIC comes unglued and the capital and other proposals fall apart.  I think new rules will proceed, but the FDIC’s threat is far from out of the blue.

Is this cynical?  I prefer to think of it as an observation born of experience, but this is a city about which Harry S. Truman famously said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

FedFin reports last week tracked Marty Gruenberg’s travails before Senate Banking and then again at House Financial Services, with Ranking Member Waters surprisingly aligning herself with her usual GOP enemies when it came to castigating Mr. Gruenberg over sexual-harassment problems at the agency reported by the Wall Street Journal as the week of hearings broke two days before.

And, as the hearing went on, Mr. Gruenberg found himself in even more of a pickle.  In another uncoincidental moment, Chairman McHenry got wind of 2008 allegations against the chair, allegations Mr. Gruenberg belatedly recalled when prompted by yet another poke from the Journal.  Now, Mr. McHenry has opened a formal investigation even as a statement from GOP members of …

13 11, 2023

FedFin on: Nonbank SIFI Designation

2023-11-13T12:26:16-05:00November 13th, 2023|The Vault|

In concert with finalizing a new systemic-risk methodology,  the Financial Stability Oversight Council issued guidance that significantly rewrites the manner in which nonbanks are designated as systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs), largely retaining its initial proposal.   The new approach retracts  the Trump FSOC’s approach via an entirely new framework,  now eliminating the necessity of determining if a possible designee is likely to fail and what the costs and benefits of designation is likely to be.  Although the new approach retains numerous procedural opportunities for the possible designee to know of and protest action, the new protocol still makes designation more likely.

The full report is available to retainer clients. To find out how you can sign up for the service, click here and here.


13 11, 2023

Karen Petrou: How Inequitable Rules Stoke Financial Crises and What the Banking Agencies Should do to Cut This Link

2023-11-13T15:41:25-05:00November 13th, 2023|The Vault|

Last week, OMB issued another edict redesigning the way most of the federal government writes rules, going beyond its earlier directive to consider competitive impact now also to demand detailed consideration of the broader public good, especially when it comes to economic equality.  I focused on public-good regulation in last week’s memo because it is sadly alien to federal financial regulation even though, as OMB says, “the benefits and costs of a regulation are ultimately experienced by people.”  I grant that economists are people, but some are also people who don’t like people, at least when qualitative assessment of what people need challenges the quantitative conclusions they cherish.  Pending banking rules thus ignore the public good in favor of complex market constructs, rationalizing them on assertions that, whatever else befalls finance, crises are less likely.  This is a methodology fraught with perverse consequences, the most important of which is that the agencies’ standards will hike the risk of financial crises precisely because they omit distributional analysis.

A demand for distributional consideration is not – repeat not – a plea for the banking agencies to go easy on banks.  It’s a plea for them to be as sure as they can that none but banks that need to be reined in are throttled.  As OMB now also says, “some alternatives may change distributional effects even without significantly changing stringency.”  The extent to which this is the case with bank standards is unknown because not one regulator has ever asked a distributional …

8 11, 2023

FedFin on: Rebirth at 91

2023-11-08T16:55:16-05:00November 8th, 2023|The Vault|

Although FHFA calls its FHLB report a centenary event ahead of the System’s 2032 birthday, the agency clearly plans structural substantive reform well before that milestone.  Much of what’s planned will crimp FHLB profitability, increasing the importance of what would otherwise seem like tidying-up operational improvements to protect the viability of the System’s weaker Banks.  With its eye on keeping the System in line, FHFA does not even suggest it should be allowed by law or regulatory sleight-of-hand to issue MBS or …

The full report is available to subscription clients. To find out how you can sign up for the service, click here.…

6 11, 2023

Karen Petrou: How Regulators Unwittingly Run Roughshod Over the Public Good

2023-11-06T15:47:01-05:00November 6th, 2023|The Vault|

Friday’s American Banker included a Kyle Campbell article quoting me reiterating some points in my recent testimony about the need for cumulative-impact analyses of the raft of pending rules.  This led others to suggest ulterior motives, arguing that calls for cumulative-impact analyses are fig-leaves dangling over efforts to gut the rules.  While advocates do not often argue for analytical purity when obscurity suits them, the absence of analytical rigor is nonetheless an abrogation of the public good by public officials.  Setting rules based on airy assertions that it will all come right in the end since there most likely won’t be financial crises or at least new financial crises like the old financial crises ensures that this regulatory round will have at least as much wreckage as those that came before.

The public good when it comes to financial policy is best measured by careful consideration of something wholly absent in all of the agencies’ thinking:  economic equality.  In its absence, the nation will suffer from still-worse political acrimony, an even worse public-health crisis, growing populations of Americans without fundamental financial security, and even higher odds for still more devastating financial crises.  How do I know this?  Look at American financial policy since at least 2000 and see what happened.

The Fed is particularly high-handed when it comes to public-good rationales not just for its rules, but also for its still more vital monetary-policy responsibilities.  The Fed cloaks itself with the “dual” mandate of “maximum employment” and “price stability” even …

31 10, 2023

FedFin Assessment: New White House AI Policy Promises New KYC Requirements, Banking-Agency Guidance

2023-10-31T13:33:25-04:00October 31st, 2023|The Vault|

In this report, we assess the detailed executive order (EO) issued late Monday afternoon after days of private showings of selected versions. Much in the EO’s binding provisions address near-term AI-related threats to national-security, pandemic-risk, and infrastructure vulnerabilities and much related to AI-related opportunities derive from internal procedures Mr. Biden urges the federal government to develop along with workforce protections and biomedical research. The EO also reiterates the Administration’s values and presses agencies to work still harder on voluntary industry standards that many have been drafting or disagreeing on since the White House and Congress first called attention to AI risk. What comes of these provisions in the EO remains to be seen, but the Administration has also used tools such as the Defense Production Act’s authorization for direct economic intervention to mandate an array of new AI commercial and technology safeguards.

The full report is available to retainer clients. To find out how you can sign up for the service, click here and here.…

30 10, 2023

Karen Petrou: How to Prevent Open Banking From Turning Into the Wild West

2023-11-13T15:44:38-05:00October 30th, 2023|The Vault|

There are so many rules coming from so many directions at U.S. financial institutions that spotting key strategic challenges or opportunities is harder than ever.  That more and more of these rules are longer than 1,000 pages makes C-suite impact considerations still harder to highlight.  In the midst of this morass, one proposal from the CFPB on consumer-data rights may be easy to overlook, but this seemingly-petite 299-page rule is at least as consequential as the thousands of capital and CRA pages getting all the not-so-love.

Why?  Quite simply, consumer data are the currency of commerce in general and retail finance in particular.  The stratospheric ascent of data-driven companies such as Amazon are indisputable proof that competitors who control data quickly control consumers, mobilizing ever more powerful network effects that then crush all but the most nuanced niche providers.  The CFPB is right that banks no more deserve exclusive provenance over consumer data than tech-platform companies, but requiring banks to give these data away as the Bureau plans means the crown jewels of each retail franchise are now out on the shop counter for free.

Companies far better able to make astute use of these data than all but a few banks will quickly find ways to persuade consumers to give personal information to them unless the final data rights standard has considerably more consumer protection built in than the proposal.  I know it sounds odd to say that a CFPB proposal is light on consumer protections, but so it …

23 10, 2023

Karen Petrou: Why the New CRA Rules Won’t Serve Communities Any Better Than the Old CRA Rules

2023-10-23T12:03:22-04:00October 23rd, 2023|The Vault|

On Tuesday, the banking agencies will release the final version of their 679-page proposal to rewrite the Community Reinvestment Act.  Regrettably, much of the proposal reflected the worst of false-science staff seeking complex new models defining subjective goals combined with certainty-loving compliance officers and lawyers who just want to be told the number they need to hit, not if the number makes any sense.  Unsurprisingly, there were hundreds of comment letters in which banks generally said the agencies should ease up and community groups urged still more stringent standards.  But the story doesn’t end with this unremarkable line-up– in just the last few months, two major bank trade associations and one often-virulently anti-bank advocacy group agreed on one crucial thing:  anything close to what the agencies proposed won’t work.

There are of course sharp differences between what banks and public advocates want in a new CRA rule, but what unites them is the over-arching understanding that the new approach is a cumbersome exercise remote from the reality confronting both banks and borrowers in the least-served urban and rural communities.  Banks complain – often with good reason as I showed in my book on economic inequality – that risk-based capital rules over-estimate the risk of lending to many community-focused borrowers.  The new capital proposals would ameliorate some of this in their “enhanced” risk weightings, but these weightings actually don’t count for much of anything since the proposed “higher-of” standards applies current, higher weightings.

The agencies in fact acknowledge as much …

17 10, 2023

FedFin on: Transaction-Account FDIC Coverage

2023-10-18T11:54:18-04:00October 17th, 2023|The Vault|

Bipartisan senators have introduced legislation to provide FDIC coverage for certain noninterest-bearing transaction accounts, a move designed to prevent the stress and potential systemic risk evident when Silicon Valley and Signature Banks failed in March.  However, expanding FDIC coverage could increase FDIC premiums, heightening pressure on IDIs and their holding companies in concert with the pending special assessment unless companies that opt out of added coverage do not bear additional costs for IDIs that choose to offer these insured accounts…

The full report is available to retainer clients. To find out how you can sign up for the service, click here and here.…

16 10, 2023

Karen Petrou: The Apples-to-Martians Comparison of PE Capital to That Demanded of Banks

2023-11-13T15:47:14-05:00October 16th, 2023|The Vault|

What is capital?  We talk a lot about how much banks should hold and what more bank capital means to whom.  But few have said much about what regulatory capital actually is.  That’s a signal, strategic omission as private-equity firms spin a tale of capital resilience without actually having anything comparable to what banks must raise even as nonbanks take over more and more financial markets key to stability, economic equality, and macroeconomic growth.  Let nonbanks compete wherever they can, but suggestions that private equity hold more capital than banks is a whopper that cannot go unchallenged as lending migrates to these powerful firms.

In a New York Times article over the weekend, Apollo’s chief executive reiterated a point he’s made before:  that his firm’s lending activities are backed by “more Tier 1 capital” than banks are required to hold.  As the Times article then observes, the assets that “constitute” Apollo’s capital and that of other PE firms are low-risk and thus a source of “permanent capital.”  Or so it is said.

But the assets Apollo calls capital are just assets – not capital of any tier – under banking rules.  Assets they also are when one remembers how balance-sheets work.  The billion-dollar balance-sheet question is always what stands between assets and liabilities if asset valuations drop.  For banks and, indeed, anyone else with a balance sheet, that’s capital – not more assets deepening the void between assets and liabilities.

The term “permanent capital” actually derives from insurance regulation.  It …

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