Asset Management and Financial Stability

Asset management report cover

The US Office of Financial Research recently released a report raising concerns that the largest asset managers could pose a threat to financial stability. That puts firms like BlackRock, Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management, Prudential Financial, AXA Investment Managers, MetLife, Invesco and UBS Global Asset Management in the cross-hairs of being considered “systemically important.”

The Financial Stability Oversight Council decided to study the activities of asset management firms to better inform its analysis of whether to consider such firms for enhanced prudential standards and supervision under Section 113 of the Dodd-Frank Act. Section 113 gives the FSOC the power to designate a non-bank firm as a “systemically important financial institution”. Being considered “systemically important” means heightened supervision by the US Federal Reserve and also makes the firm subject to risk-based capital requirements and leverage rules.

The FSOC asked the Office of Financial Research to step in and collect data. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act established the Office of Financial Research within the Treasury Department to improve the quality of financial data available to policymakers and to facilitate more robust and sophisticated analysis of the financial system.

This report is the first step to seeing greater regulatory control of large asset managers. According to the Report, the U.S. asset management industry oversees the allocation of approximately $53 trillion in financial assets.

The Report asserts that separate accounts managed by large asset managers are less transparent than those of mutual funds, banks, and private funds because the activities are not publicly reported.

The Report identifies four key factors that make the industry vulnerable to shocks:

(1) “reaching for yield” and herding behaviors;
(2) redemption risk in collective investment vehicles;
(3) leverage, which can amplify asset price movements and increase the potential for fire sales; and
(4) firms as sources of risk;

To me, (1) and (3) seem to miss the point of separate accounts. Pension plans and institutional investors usually choose a separate accounts strategy to have greater control over their investments. The active involvement of the separate account holder acts as a control against the asset manager reaching for yield or using excessive leverage.

Of course, the findings in the Report do not mean that the big asset managers are imminently subject to additional regulatory oversight. There is a lengthy process for designated a firm as “systemically important.” However, this report could lead to adverse regulation that might adversely impact the separate account business of large asset managers, including those with real estate investment management platforms.