Do You Want to be Systemically Important?

RMS Titanic

The hard work has begun as federal regulators are trying to implement the provisions of Dodd-Frank. The law pushed lots of the detail out to the agencies so there are lots of unanswered questions.

One of the hot button issues was what to do with financial institutions that were too big to fail.  Dodd-Frank came up with the concept of “systemically important.” They created a new entity, the Financial Stability Oversight Council to come up with a definition, figure who should get that designation and design safeguards for those designees.

Private equity lost the battle to get an exemption from registration under the Investment Advisers Act. It may have to fight another battle to avoid the “systemically important” label.

The Independent Community Bankers of America, a major trade group for community banks, said General Electric Co.’s GE Capital and private-equity firms Carlyle Group, KKR & Co.’s Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Blackstone Group LP should be tagged as systemically important.

Private equity doesn’t belong in that group, shot back Blackstone spokesman Peter Rose. “We do not trade, we have no leverage at the parent-company level, our investments are clearly disclosed and transparent, our investors are with us for the long term,” he said. “Therefore there is no possibility of a, quote, ‘run on the bank.’ ”

What does this all mean?

According to section 113 of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Financial Stability Oversight Council

may determine that a U.S. nonbank financial company shall be supervised by the Board of Governors and shall be subject to prudential standards, in accordance with this title, if the Council determines that material financial distress at the U.S. nonbank financial company, or the nature, scope, size, scale, concentration, interconnectedness, or mix of the activities of the U.S. nonbank financial company, could pose a threat to the financial stability of the United States.

The term “U.S. nonbank financial company” means

a company (other than a bank holding company, a Farm Credit System institution chartered and subject to the provisions of the Farm Credit Act of 1971 (12 U.S.C. 2001 et seq.), or a national securities exchange (or parent thereof), clearing agency (or parent thereof, unless the parent is a bank holding company), security-based swap execution facility, or security-based swap data repository registered with the Commission, or a board of trade designated as a contract market (or parent thereof), or a derivatives clearing organization (or parent thereof, unless the parent is a bank holding company), swap execution facility or a swap data depository registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission), that is–
(i) incorporated or organized under the laws of the United States or any State; and
(ii) predominantly engaged in financial activities, as defined in paragraph (6).
[102(a)[4)]

A company is “predominantly engaged in financial activities” if–

(A) the annual gross revenues derived by the company and all of its subsidiaries from activities that are financial in nature (as defined in section 4(k) of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956) and, if applicable, from the ownership or control of one or more insured depository institutions, represents 85 percent or more of the consolidated annual gross revenues of the company; or
(B) the consolidated assets of the company and all of its subsidiaries related to activities that are financial in nature (as defined in section 4(k) of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956) and, if applicable, related to the ownership or control of one or more insured depository institutions, represents 85 percent or more of the consolidated assets of the company.
[102(a)[6)]

Those are some very wide open definitions for who could be considered “systemically important.”

Then the Financial Stability Oversight Council has to make a determination using these considerations:

(A) The extent of the leverage of the company;
(B) The extent and nature of the off-balance-sheet exposures of the company;
(C) The extent and nature of the transactions and relationships of the company with other significant nonbank financial companies and significant bank holding companies;
(D) The importance of the company as a source of credit for households, businesses, and State and local governments and as a source of liquidity for the United States financial system;
(E) The importance of the company as a source of credit for low-income, minority, or underserved communities, and the impact that the failure of such company would have on the availability of credit in such communities;
(F) The extent to which assets are managed rather than owned by the company, and the extent to which ownership of assets under management is diffuse;
(G) The nature, scope, size, scale, concentration, interconnectedness, and mix of the activities of the company;
(H)The degree to which the company is already regulated by 1 or more primary financial regulatory agencies;
(I) The amount and nature of the financial assets of the company;
(J) The amount and types of the liabilities of the company, including the degree of reliance on short-term funding; and
(K)Any other risk-related factors that the Council deems appropriate.
[113(a)(2)]

Hearing

Then it takes 2/3 of the voting members of the Council, including the Chairperson, to make the designation [113(a)(1)]. Then the financial company designated as systemically important has 30 days to request a hearing and another 30 days to submit material. [113(e)(2)] The Council has 60 days to make a final determination.

Too Big to Fail

This provision of Dodd-Frank is the Anti-AIG and to some extent the Anti-Lehman Brothers portion of the law.It is one of the many ways the law tries to address Too Big to Fail.

Capital has many forms and is made available in many ways. The U.S. government thought AIG was too big to fail because of its size and interconnectedness. They didn’t think Lehman Brothers was too big to fail, but I think they were wrong about that.

Back to the Finger Pointing

Now that the Financial Stability Oversight Council is trying to define Too Big to Fail as systemically important, the finger pointing has begun. Industries and companies are saying “not me” and saying that others should be included.

The problem is that once you are designated “systemically important” it’s not clear what additional burdens will be placed on you and whether there will be any benefit to the designation. It seems the Council has the flexibility to craft different requirements for different companies and different industries.

It may boost your ego to be considered “systemically important” but it will also lead to a regulatory headache. Private investment firms are not exempt from the designation and could be tagged.

Sources:

Image of the RMS Titanic is from Wikimedia.

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