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Financial Reforms: What It Means to the Banking Industry

A proposal for a complete regulatory overhaul is expected to be revealed this Wednesday and the Obama administration is expecting stiff resistance to certain aspects of the proposal from banking companies. Almost all areas related to banking operations will be touched by the proposed legislation; ranging from how consumers are charged on credit card debts to how exotic financial instruments are packaged.

The outcome of Obama’s proposed financial reorganization will have a large impact on how banks operate in the future. Varying interest on different segments of the economy, from business to consumers to the government needs to be ironed out. Talks about regulatory problems will likely dominate the discussions in Capitol Hill for the succeeding months.

At the center of the regulatory plan is the “white paper” as it is referred to by the administration. In essence, it aims to provide the Federal Reserve more oversight power when it comes to dealing with the largest players. The government wants the Fed to gain the authority to break-up important companies – similar to how FDIC operates failed banks – once it becomes a threat to the overall economy. In addition, the Obama administration also wants to create a new watchdog that will scrutinize consumer products more thoroughly.

Certain lawmakers want to consolidate power to a single regulatory agency but the president does not intend to pursue this route. Instead, the administration will allow several agencies to continue their operations. In fact, the only agency that will be abolished is the Office of Thrift Supervision. If the proposed consumer agency pushes through, the number of oversight institutions in the financial industry will remain the same.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is scheduled to appear before the Senate and House panels. Many expect him to be criticized and called to answer how regulators can create a process that will not simply bailout finance companies on the brink of collapse. Lawmakers also want more responsibility on the part of the banks. The issue of giving more authority to the Federal Reserve will also be a thorny issue given its past failures and culture of secrecy.

Banks to Undergo Management Review

Over the past few weeks, news has been buzzing that nine of the country’s largest banks that failed the stress test are undergoing capital-raising initiatives to meet the government’s criteria. Monday is scheduled to be deadline for federal bank regulators’ approval for these plans. This long-awaited moment can be outshined by a less known deadline though: management review of these banks.

Banks including Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America will assess their top executives to ensure that the banks have sufficient leadership capability that will take them through the tough times. According to regulators, this process is necessary to find out if the current management has the “ability to manage the risks presented by the current economic environment”.

For many, this management review seems confusing, if not unnecessary. This is because the rules of the management review remain unclear. And individual regulators are providing contradictory guidance which further confuses the process. Whatever way they call it, it is clear that federal regulators are simply pressuring banks to get more people with commercial banking expertise.

Bank of America has already bowed to the pressure by replacing one senior executive and several directors. For its part, Citigroup is beefing up its board by adding new directors. It remains unclear if federal regulators will approve the management review on its deadline, which is on Monday.

Even as “weaker” banks prepare to wait for government approval for their capital raising initiatives and management review approval; “stronger” banks like JPMorgan Chase & Co and Goldman Sachs Group are preparing to repay the government. If their repayment scheme is approved, this will spell a dramatic milestone in today’s chaotic financial market.

It is expected that the government will accept the repayment of these banks. The Fed previously announced that it will allow repayment if the banks can prove they can raise capital from outside investors and lend to borrowers without relying on federal support.

Larger Banks to Pay Bigger Share in FDIC Levy

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has approved a new policy that requires big US banks to pay a larger share of the insurance bill. Recent bank failures have been draining the funds from FDIC forcing the institution to ask for larger contributions from the banks even at the time when a significant number of them can barely keep afloat.

The FDIC board, composed of five members, will collect an extra $5.6 billion for these banks to a total of $17.6 billion. The new assessment can decrease the amount of loans available to customers and businesses. Bigger banks will feel the brunt of this change. Those with at least $100 billion in assets will foot an estimated $500 million more than was previously forecasted.

Forcing larger banks to shoulder a larger share of the levy is a good move because the bailout funds have been disproportionately given to the largest banks in the country. This leaves smaller community institutions at a big disadvantage. Sheila C. Bair, the FDIC Chairman, is particularly aware of these problems. According to her, collecting more money from major banks will contribute to equity. In addition, it was the big banks that played a major role in the financial crisis.

There are some dissents over this structure though. For example, the Controller of Currency has mentioned that asking larger amounts from big banks was unsuitable because majority of the insurance funds are being used by smaller banks. However, Bair doesn’t agree with this because she said that because of government intervention in not letting larger banks fail, smaller banks are hurting as the government guarantee takes away business from community institutions.

Traditionally, the FDIC has collected its percentage from each institution based on its deposits and adjusted for its overall health. Under Bair’s leadership, the assessment now includes the likelihood of failure based on the bank’s business structure. The shift to asking bigger banks to pay its appropriate share is a big step away from the previous deposit model.

Now, the FDIC will collect 0.05 percent of bank asset, the amount invested, loaned, or committed to clients in any way. Smaller banks have the tendency to lend out the same amount they receive from deposits. Meanwhile, larger banks tend to lend from different sources. Thus, the larger assessments asked from them.

Stress Test Results Officially Announced

After weeks of speculations and leakage, it is finally confirmed: some of the nation’s largest banks need additional capital. Federal regulators finally announced last May 7 that 10 out of the 19 banks that underwent the stress test “failed” it.

Leading the pack is Bank of America which needs an additional $33.5 billion. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo needs $13.7 and it is closely followed by GMAC LLC which needs $11.5 billion. Citigroup and Morgan Stanley need $5.5 billion and $1.8 billion respectively. Among the banks that were given a clean bill of health are JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, US Bancorp, Bank of NY Mellon, and MetLife.

In spite of the vulnerable state the banks are still in, the government is confident about the financial industry. The Obama administration believes that even if the banks are not totally out of the woods yet, it is fast getting there. Almost half of the banks that have taken the stress test passed them. Even those that didn’t were actually in better financial shape that people originally thought.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke expected the report to restore investor confidence. And indeed, his projection proved to be accurate. Markets have improved steadily since the results were announced with rising share prices, better liquidity, and other signs of a stabilizing market. Regulators were also happy that capital marketers were willing to fill in the holes the stress test revealed at the banks.

The stress test showed that some of the major banks required a $74.6 worth of additional capital to ensure that they can withstand worst-case scenarios. Both Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo sold over $15 billion worth of bonds and shares the following day. On the other hand, Bank of America said that it planned to sell 1.25 billion shares when they saw that investors were positive about their relatively small shortfall.

The Obama administration is pleased with this development. This is because if the banks are able to raise the necessary capital halfway by next week, the administration would not need to ask Congress for more bailout money.

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