Posts Tagged ‘bank regulators’

Bernanke Talks Tough on Bank Regulation

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

The Federal Reserve is identifying risks in the financial system that could someday erupt into a new financial crisis, but regulators must be careful not to unintentionally hamper lending as they set up new oversight, according to Chairman Ben Bernanke.   “We want the system to be as strong and resilient as possible,” and more intense oversight and changes such as requiring banks to hold more capital will help, said Bernanke at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Bank Structure & Competition conference.  “If we can’t arrest risks, we want to make sure the financial system is defending itself,” he said.  The Dodd Frank Act establishes governmental structures to analyze risk aimed at preventing another financial failure as harsh as the one that almost brought down the world’s economy in the fall of 2008.

Through the Financial Stability Oversight Council and within the Fed, regulators are still analyzing what can cause “systemic risk,” – identified as risk that can cause widespread financial failure, Bernanke said.  Similar actions are underway in other nations; Bernanke said that regulators worldwide are communicating with each other while implementing their own systems.  If the new structures had been in place previously, Bernanke said, the 2008 financial crisis likely would not have happened. The old system of regulation spread authority across too many entities, was poorly coordinated, and problems “fell through the cracks.”  As the Federal Reserve develops a structure for analyzing risk, Bernanke said the focus must go beyond “fighting the last war.”  Future financial threats may differ from those of the past, which is why the banking industry currently is facing new oversight.  When some banks announced plans to pay shareholders dividends, regulators applied “stress tests” to their finances to determine if the institutions would be sound even if the economy weakened.  According to Bernanke, the government’s new stress testing system has provided accurate assessments of bank finances.

Even so, the regulations – the first new ones in 70 years — will be written to encourage bank compliance.  “No one’s interests are served by the imposition of ineffective or burdensome rules that lead to excessive increases in costs or unnecessary restrictions in the supply of credit,” Bernanke said.  “Regulators must aim to avoid stifling reasonable risk-taking and innovation in financial markets, as these factors play an important role in fostering broader productivity gains, economic growth, and job creation.”

Bernanke and Fed officials are trying to balance the need to diminish the risk of another financial crisis with the aim of stimulating the economy after the worst recession since the Great Depression. The Dodd-Frank Act gives the Fed the job of overseeing the biggest financial companies.  “While a great deal has been accomplished since the act was passed less than a year ago, much work remains to better understand sources of systemic risk, to develop improved monitoring tools, and to evaluate and implement policy instruments to reduce macro-prudential risks,” Bernanke said.

Lawmakers who solidly opposed the financial overhaul legislation, say Dodd-Frank goes too far and might make it more difficult for American banks to compete globally.  Some are working to cut funding for agencies established by the law and limit the scope of new rules.  According to the General Accounting Office, the law will cost nearly $1 billion to implement in 2011.

Additionally, Bernanke cited the sovereign-debt concerns in Europe as an example where the analysis led to the May 2010 decision by the Federal Open Market Committee to authorize “dollar liquidity swap lines with other central banks in a pre-emptive move to avert a further deterioration in liquidity conditions.”

To listen to our podcast on financial reform with Anthony Downs of The Brookings Institution, click here.

Regulators Cracking Down on Banks Over Foreclosures

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Federal regulators at the Departments of Justice, Treasury and Housing, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, have ordered the nation’s largest banks to revamp their foreclosure procedures and compensate borrowers who were financially hurt by “pervasive” bad behavior or carelessness.  According to the bank regulators, failure to comply with the rules will result in fines and a broad investigation conducted by state attorneys general and other federal agencies.  The regulators acted after being criticized for not putting a halt to risky lending practices during the housing boom.

Describing the lending practices as “a pattern of misconduct and negligence,” the Federal Reserve said that “These deficiencies represent significant and pervasive compliance failures and unsafe and unsound practices at these institutions.”  Borrowers in trouble have complained that applying for a modification using the Obama administration’s program has been too complicated and characterized by multiple games of telephone tag.  Enforcement requires servicers to set up compliance programs and hire an independent firm to review residential-foreclosures.  The banks will be required to make sure that communications are more “effective” between borrowers and banks when it comes to foreclosure and mortgage-modification proceedings.

Citibank, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, the nation’s four leading banks, top the list of financial firms cited by the Federal Reserve, Office of Thrift Supervision and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.  Citigroup said that it had “self-identified” desired changes in 2009 and that it has helped more than 1.1 million homeowners avoid foreclosure.  “We are committed to working with our regulators to further strengthen our programs in these areas and meeting these new requirements,” the company said.

As stern as the recent move seems to be, there are still critics.  “These consent orders are worse than doing nothing,” said Alys Cohen, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.  “They set the bar so low on some things and they give the banks carte blanche on others.  And they give the appearance of doing something while giving banks control of the process.”  Additionally, consumer advocates and members of Congress said the new rules are too little, too late.

Congressional critics maintain that the order is too moderate.  House Democrats introduced legislation that would require lenders to perform specific actions, including an appeals process, before starting foreclosures.  “I want to know what abuses (the government agencies) identified, which banks committed them and how their proposed consent agreement is going to fix these problems,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) the ranking member of the House Government and Oversight Committee.  “Based on what I have read…I am not encouraged at all.”

More than 50 consumer groups don’t like the settlement,  and claim that the expected settlements do little more than require mortgage servicers to obey existing laws and that they lack penalties.  “They’re left to police their new improvements,” said Katherine Porter, a University of Iowa law professor who is an expert on mortgage services.  Another concern is that the settlements may weaken the ability of 50 state attorneys general to force concessions from mortgage servicers.  The attorneys general have been investigating mortgage servicers since last fall, and in March sent the companies a list of terms, which go further than those pursued by bank regulators.  Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who’s leading the joint effort, says any settlements with banking regulators will not “pre-empt” the states’ efforts.

Basel III Tightens Global Banking Standards

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

 Basel III agreement is designed to prevent future financial meltdowns.Global banking regulators have agreed to implement new rules that will make the international banking industry safer and avoid future financial meltdowns. Known as Basel III — after the Swiss city in which the agreement was worked out — the new requirements will more than triple the amount of capital that banks must have in reserves.  This will oblige banks to be more conservative and compel them to maintain larger hedges against potential losses.

The heart of the agreement is a requirement that banks raise the amount of common equity they hold – perceived as the least risky form of capital – to seven percent of assets from just two percent.  Banks are concerned that the tough new regulations will reduce profits, harm weaker institutions and increase the cost of borrowing money.  To allay their concerns, regulators are giving the banks as long as 10 years to implement the toughest rules.  Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, said “The agreements reached today are a fundamental strengthening of global capital standards.”  Representatives from 27 nations, who are members of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, participated.  The committee’s recommendations are subject to approval in November by G-20 nations, including the United States.  A deadline of January 1, 2013, was set to start phasing in the revised regulations.

Mary Frances Monroe, vice president for regulatory policy at the American Bankers Association – which represents the nation’s 8,000 banks – was happy with the results.  “Banks understand the need for heightened prudential standards,” she said.  The United States’ top banking regulators – the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – issued a statement saying the agreement “represents a significant step forward in reducing the incidence and severity of future financial crises.”