With this morning’s announcement of First Republic Bank’s failure and subsequent sale to JP Morgan, the total cost to the FDIC of the three recent bank failures is approaching $35 billion.
The banks will pay for these losses through greater FDIC insurance premiums. That additional bank expense will be passed on to their customers. There is no government tax money being used.
I believe there are important initial lessons from these current failures for credit unions:
- Regulatory mismanagement is extremely costly. The institutions and their customers will pay for these shortcomings.
- The initial response will always be to issue more regulation-in this case both capital and liquidity requirements.
- The problem is “bureaucracy,” not individuals with responsibility in the agencies.
- All of the explanations offered below have been part of NCUA’s own playbook in the past.
The question for credit unions Is whether NCUA is exempt from the internal bank regulatory shortcomings described below? Or is it that the problems have yet to surface?
Before today’s announcement of this third failure, last week the FDIC, FED and GAO had issued preliminary postmortems of why SVB and Signature banks had failed. The headline summaries of these reports signaled the “self-criticism” of the agency’s performance.
However before turning the spotlight on themselves, the reports pointed directly at the banks’ management, from the Wall Street Journal’s account:
The Federal Reserve report — commissioned on March 13 by Michael Barr, vice chair of supervision at the Fed — argued that SVB failed on March 10 because of “a textbook case of mismanagement by a bank,” and said its senior leadership “failed to manage basic interest rate and liquidity risk.”
The FDIC report — authored by chief risk officer Marshall Gentry -– offered similar criticisms about the management of Signature Bank, which was seized by regulators on March 12. The FDIC said that Signature Bank failed to prioritize good government practices and often ignored FDIC advisory recommendations prior to its sudden collapse.
“The root cause of Signature Bank’s failure was poor management,” the report said. “[Signature Bank’s] board of directors and management pursued rapid, unrestrained growth without developing and maintaining adequate risk-management practices and controls appropriate for the size, complexity and risk profile of the institution.”
The obvious political and accountability question is why weren’t the regulators up to the task of effective oversight of these “basic risk”management failures. The reports then become more self-focused as reported in the Journal:
“Federal Reserve supervisors did not fully appreciate the extent of the vulnerabilities as Silicon Valley Bank grew in size and complexity,” Fed regulators said, adding that “when supervisors did identify vulnerabilities, they did not take sufficient steps to ensure that Silicon Valley Bank fixed those problems quickly enough.”
The two federal regulators also pointed the finger at themselves for failing to adequately supervise both institutions, and emphasized that new guardrails must be put in place to stave off another regional banking catastrophe. Both agencies said they missed weakness in both banks prior to their collapses, with the FDIC blaming a lack of staff to conduct targeted reviews of Signature.
The Federal Reserve’s Mea Culpa
Michael Barr, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, issued a 114 page analysis. Here are some of his summary findings in his short introduction:
Our first area of focus will be to improve the speed, force, and agility of supervision. As the report shows, in part because of the Federal Reserve’s tailoring framework and the stance of supervisory policy, supervisors did not fully appreciate the extent of the bank’s vulnerabilities, or take sufficient steps to ensure that the bank fixed its problems quickly enough.
Higher capital or liquidity requirements can serve as an important safeguard until risk controls improve, and they can focus management’s attention on the most critical issues. As a further example, limits on capital distributions or incentive compensation could be appropriate and effective in some cases.
We need to develop a culture that empowers supervisors to act in the face of uncertainty. . .
Last, we need to guard against complacency. More than a decade of banking system stability and strong performance by banks of all sizes may have led bankers to be overconfident and supervisors to be too accepting. Supervisors should be encouraged to evaluate risks with rigor and consider a range of potential shocks and vulnerabilities, so that they think through the implications of tail events with severe consequences.
Oversight of incentives for bank managers should also be improved. SVB’s senior management responded to the incentives approved by the board of directors; they were not compensated to manage the bank’s risk, and they did not do so effectively. We should consider setting tougher minimum standards for incentive compensation programs and ensure banks comply with the standards we already have. . .
This report is a self-assessment, a critical part of prudent risk management, and what we ask the banks we supervise to do when they have a weakness. It is essential for strengthening our own supervision and regulation.
The Journal’s analysis of Barr’s report: “Of the four top takeaways about the events leading to SVB’s collapse, three are tied to perceived shortcomings with the Fed’s banking oversight. The report focuses on errors by the agency but not on individuals’ responsibility.
The Fed also pinned some blame on its own bureaucratic structure. Authority for overseeing banks is parceled out to the Fed’s regional bank branches, but in practice, the central hub in Washington provides extensive input and must approve some enforcement actions.”
“Self-assessments-A Critical Part of Risk Management”
Over two years ago, one of NCUA’s board members requested a “look back” on the NCUA’s analysis and response to the corporate resolution. A response was promised. Nothing has been done, at least publicly.
Regulatory failures are costly. Is the credit union system and its oversight subject to similar the bureaucratic shortfalls as the FDIC, Federal Reserve and OCC?
To retain, or recover, confidence in its own analysis, the Fed’s report includes details of its examiners’ findings, board presentations and other verbatim accounts of its oversight. Transparency is the first step in accountability and trust. That is certainly a model NCUA could emulate.