Karen Petrou: Three Fast, Urgent Fixes to U.S. Bank Supervision and One Major Change to End Bailouts
In the wake of recent bank failures, much has rightly been said about how supervisors failed to act even though warning claxons blared. Nothing that happened to Silvergate, SVB, or Signature is due to forces beyond supervisory control, but there are deep, structural weaknesses in how banks have long been supervised. How long? I went back to my 2001 Senate Banking testimony about what was then the largest-ever failure to find that many of the lessons that should have been learned never sunk in.
Given that this hearing was in 2001, a good deal of what I said about bank capital requirements was about Basel I and is thus long out of date. However, one key point isn’t: the capital triggers used to spark prompt corrective action (PCA) were and are an unduly-simplistic way to identify the need for rapid supervisory intervention.
Silvergate, SVB, and Signature were all “well” capitalized right up to the brink of collapse because each of the banks in its own way arbitraged the capital rules to enormous – and obvious – advantage. Nothing in law or rule bars bank supervisors from stepping in well before PCA ratios sink but nothing seems to stir supervisors to do so. 1991’s PCA requirements were an important advance at the time, but it was outdated only a decade later. Now, it’s a dangerous supervisory distraction.
What else noted in 2001 remains an urgent fix? Over two decades ago, I urged the FDIC to reinstate the high-growth early-warning system it …