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VIEWPOINTS OF THE FDIC AND SELECT INDUSTRY EXPERTS ON DEPOSIT INSURANCE REFORM
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2001
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit,
Committee on Financial Services,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10:04 a.m., in room 2128, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Spencer Bachus, [chairman of the subcommittee], presiding.
Present: Chairman Bachus; Representatives Royce, Kelly, Cantor, Hart, Waters, Bentsen, Sherman, Lucas and Shows.
Chairman BACHUS. The subcommittee meets today for its third hearing this year on reforming the deposit insurance system. We're delighted to have with us today the new Chairman of the FDIC, Don Powell, who assumed his responsibilities at the Agency less than two months ago, after a distinguished career in Texas banking. Chairman Powell will provide us with the FDIC's updated recommendations on how to reform a system that has served our country well over the years but is in need of some retooling for the 21st century marketplace.
Shortly after the subcommittee's last hearing on deposit insurance reform in late July, the Office of Thrift Supervision announced the failure of Superior Bank, a Chicago-based thrift with assets of $2.3 billion and a heavy concentration of sub-prime loans. Early estimates are that Superior's failure could end up costing the Savings Association Insurance Fund upward of $500 million, which would in turn lower SAIF's ratio of reserves to insured deposits from its current level of 1.43 percent to 1.35 percent or even lower.
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In and of itself, the Superior failure is hardly cause for panic. Both the SAIF and its banking industry counterpart, the Bank Insurance Fund, remain extremely well capitalized and the banking and thrift industries appear well-positioned to weather any significant downturn in the economy. Nonetheless, a precipitous drop in SAIF's reserve ratiocoinciding with recent declines in the BIF ratiohighlight the need for Congress to consider reforms before the ratios fall below levels which, under the current system, would trigger sizable premium assessments on all institutions.
As this subcommittee begins in earnest to consider legislative proposals to address deficiencies in the current deposit insurance system, I can think of no Government official better qualified to provide us with wise counsel than our first witness at today's hearing. With more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry, including his recent tenure as president and CEO of the First National Bank of Amarillo, Chairman Powell brings to his new position a real world understanding of the industry he is now charged with overseeing, that is truly refreshing.
I had the pleasure of spending time with Chairman Powell when he visited my office last month. I found him to be exceedingly well versed on the issue of deposit insurance reform as well as extremely sensitive to the challenges faced by America's Main Street banks.
Chairman Powell pledged to work closely with the subcommittee both in the context of deposit insurance reform and in other areas to ensure that the legislative and regulatory initiatives we pursue here in Washington make sense when viewed from the perspective of a Main Street banker and his customers. In the area of deposit insurance reform, I've been particularly encouraged by Chairman Powell's endorsement of the principle of indexing coverage levels to inflation and increasing coverage for individual retirement accounts.
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And I was extremely pleased to see an analogy you made in your testimony that actually that's the only way we can keep coverage at the same level because of inflation. If we don't move it up or index it, it actually diminishes in value. And I think that's probably the best argument that I've heard in ten years for an increase.
As I said, Chairman Powell has expressed a willingness to work with the subcommittee in exploring possible changes in the system, and one of the changes I've advocated is insuring municipal deposits. If we are truly serious about addressing liquidity problems facing small community banks across America, we should be doing everything possible to encourage local government agencies to keep their receipts in the community by depositing them with local banks.
Currently, many States require banks that maintain municipal deposits to pledge collateral against the portion of such deposits that exceed $100,000 and are therefore not insured by the FDIC. This not only makes it difficult for small banks to compete for those deposits with larger institutions, but it also ties up resources that could otherwise be devoted to community development and other lending activities.
This is an issue I look forward to discussing further with Chairman Powell as the deposit insurance reform debate moves forward.
Let me close again by issuing Chairman Powell a warm welcome, testifying for the first time before our subcommittee, and also welcome those who'll be testifying on our second panel.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I now recognize there are no other Members who wish to make opening statements so at this time, Chairman Powell, we look forward to your testimony.
STATEMENT OF HON. DONALD E. POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL DEPOSIT INSURANCE CORPORATION
Mr. POWELL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It is a great pleasure to appear before you this morning, my first appearance before Congress as Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to discuss deposit insurance reform. The current system does not need a radical overhaul, but I agree with the FDIC's analysis that there are flaws in the current system. These flaws could actually prolong an economic downturn rather than promote the conditions necessary for recovery. The current system also is unfair in some ways and distorts initiatives in ways that make the problem of moral hazard worse. These flaws can only be corrected by legislation.
The FDIC staff has prepared an excellent report on deposit insurance reform with very important recommendations. In fact, if I might digress for a few moments, Mr. Chairman. Last night, I attended a lecture and ceremony for the presentation of the Roger W. Jones Award for Excellent Leadership sponsored by the School of Public Affairs at American University. This prestigious award is given to two career employees in the Federal Government that exemplify an enhancing commitment to the effective and efficient operations of Government.
Art Murton, the Director of the FDIC's Division of Insurance, was one of the recipients last night. He received the award, in large part, for the work he did on the deposit insurance study. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly congratulate Mr. Murton.
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I have studied the report and have full confidence in the product the FDIC has produced. This morning I will add my thoughts on how the Congress can create a better system. The current system is designed to ensure that the funds' reserves are adequate and that the deposit insurance program is operated in a manner that is fiscally and economically responsible.
Any new system should retain these essential characteristics. It should also be fair, simple, and transparent. Specifically, what should we do?
First we should merge the Bank Insurance Fund and the Savings Association Insurance Fund. That is the FDIC's longstanding position and the industry has strong consensus supporting such a merger. In fact, I have heard no one inside the industry or out suggest otherwise. Many institutions currently hold both BIF and SAIF insured funds. A merged fund would be stronger and better diversified than either fund standing alone. In addition, the merged fund would eliminate the possibility of a premium disparity between the BIF and the SAIF. Finally, merging the funds would also eliminate the costs to insured institutions associated with tracking their BIF and SAIF deposits separately, as well as the complications such tracking introduces for mergers and acquisitions.
For all of these reasons, the FDIC has advocated merging the two funds for a number of years and I wholeheartedly agree.
Second, we should index deposit insurance coverage. I do not believe it is necessary to raise the coverage limit now. While I'm acutely sensitive to the funding pressures faced by many community banks, this is a complex issue and there are many factors at work. It is not clear whether a higher coverage limit would significantly ease current funding pressures for most of these institutions.
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The impact of raising the coverage limit on the fund reserve ratio is also uncertain and we must be mindful of the potential for unintended consequences, such as facilitating deposit gathering by higher-risk institutions. We should, however, ensure that the present limit keeps its value in the future. For this reason, deposit insurance coverage level should be indexed to maintain its real value.
My suggestion would be to index the $100,000 limit to the Consumer Price Index and adjust it every five years. The first adjustment would be on January the 1st, 2005. We should make adjustments in round numberssay, increments of $10,000and the coverage limit should not decline if the price level falls. These seem like the right elements of an indexing system, but I'm willing to support any reasonable method of indexing that ensures that the public knows that the FDIC deposit insurance protection will not wither away over time. I look forward to working with the Congress to find a method of indexing that works.
There has been some opposition to the FDIC's indexing proposal on the grounds that it would increase the Federal safety net. Frankly, I'm puzzled by this. The FDIC is not recommending that the safety net be increased, it is simply recommending that the safety net not be decreased inadvertently because of inflation.
There is one class of deposits for which Congress should consider raising the insurance limit, and that is IRA and Keogh accounts. Such accounts are uniquely important and protecting them is consistent with existing Government policies that encourage long-term saving. When we think about saving for retirement in this day and age, $100,000 is not a lot of money. Middle-income families routinely save well in excess of this amount
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Moreover, especially during this time of uncertainty when Americans may be concerned about the safety of their savings, I believe it is important for the United States Government to offer ample protection to facilitate savings through vehicles that will redeploy funds into the economy. In my view, we must do whatever we can to provide for the ongoing productive investments in our economy and solid, sustainable growth. Higher deposit insurance protection for long-term savings accounts could help.
There is some history for providing such accounts with special insurance treatment. In 1978, Congress raised coverage for IRAs and Keoghs to $100,000, while leaving basic coverage for other deposits at $40,000. I urge the Congress to give serious consideration to raising the insurance limits on retirement accounts.
On the issue of managing the insurance fund, right now there are two statutorily mandated methods for managing fund size. One of these methods prevents the FDIC from charging appropriately for risk during good economic times. The other can work to exacerbate an economic downturn. Together, they lead to volatile premiums.
To address this issue, we must, third, allow the FDIC to price deposit insurance according to risk, and the FDIC's Board must have the flexibility to manage the fund size in periods of stability as well as in periods of crisis.
Specifically, the FDIC should have the discretion to set the target size for the fund ratio and determine the speed of adjustment toward the target and charge appropriately for risk at all times.
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What is the appropriate target for the size of the fund? This will depend upon economic and banking conditions and other factors that affect the risk exposure of the industry. The FDIC is in the best position to gather information about risks in the industry and to analyze it for these purposes, using state-of-the-art measurement methods, as well as to determine the best pace for moving toward the fund target.
Although I believe that greater discretion for the FDIC Board is essential in these areas, I am not suggesting that the current target of 1.25 is inappropriate or that there should be no guidelines for the FDIC in managing the size of the fund. On the contrary, I believe that the 1.25 percent target has served us well in recent years, and is a responsible reserve against the current risks in the banking sector. The current target is a reasonable starting point for the new system.
Moreover, I would steer clear of automatic triggers or hard targets. I would be happy to work with Congress to develop some guiding principles for the FDIC Board in managing the growth or shrinkage of the fund. I also believe that the FDIC should report regularly to the Congress on its actions to manage the fund, and we are fully prepared to do that.
How would premiums work if the FDIC could set them according to the risks in the institutions we insure? First and foremost, the FDIC would attempt to make them fair and understandable. We would strive to make the pricing mechanism simple, straightforward, and easy for bankers to understand. In my view, we can accomplish our goals on risk-based premiums with relatively minor adjustments to the FDIC's current assessment system.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Using the current system as a starting point, I believe that the FDIC should consider additional objective financial indicators based upon the kinds of financial information that banks and thrifts already report, to distinguish and price for risk more accurately within the existing least-risky 1A category. The sample ''scorecard'' included in the FDIC's April 2001 report represents the right kind of approach.
In short, I believe the right approach is to use the FDIC's historical experience with bank failures and with the losses caused by banks that have differing characteristics to create sound and defensible distinctions. Pricing deposit insurance risk is inherently difficult and some amount of subjectivity cannot be avoided.
We will never be perfect, but we are committed to doing the best possible job. We will use objective factors whenever possible, and we will invite the participation of the industry and the public in the FDIC's decisionmaking process through notice-and-comment-rulemaking and other outreach efforts.
Essentially, the FDIC wants to be able to fulfill the original mandate Congress gave it in 1991 to design and establish a truly risk-based system that allows the insurer to respond to emerging risks and evolving risk factors.
Finally, one goal of deposit insurance reform should be that, over time, it produces a better and fairer system without increasing the net costs of deposit insurance for the industry or increasing the risk posed to taxpayers. If the FDIC is charging risk-based premiums to all institutions, then to check the growth of the fund in good economic times, the FDIC must be able to grant banks a credit toward future assessments.
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In its recommendations, the FDIC suggested giving rebates whenever their fund ratio moves above its target range. However, I am reluctant to mandate a cash payment out of the insurance fund at this time, given the uncertain economic environment. We can achieve the desired result by giving banks a credit toward future assessments. Initially, these credits should be allocated in proportion to assessments paid in the past, which would be fair to the institutions that built the insurance funds to where they stand today.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the subcommittee, the Congress has an excellent opportunity to remedy flaws in the deposit insurance system before those flaws cause actual damage either to the banking industry or our economy as a whole. Both insurance funds are strong and despite a slowing economy, the banking industry also remains very strong.
The FDIC has put forward some important recommendations for improving our deposit insurance system. While I believe we should remain flexible with regard to implementation, as a former banker and as the FDIC's new Chairman, I believe that we should work together to make these reform proposals a reality.
Chairman BACHUS. Thank you.
At this time, I'm going to yield to Mrs. Kelly for questions.
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Powell, thank you for testifying. I too want to applaud your idea of indexing coverage to inflation. I think that's a good suggestion and I think it's something we should consider. I'm glad to hear it.
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Mr. Powell, I understand that some Oakar banks that bought safe deposits during the savings and loan crisis are asking the FDIC to make substantial payments from the SAIF and shift deposits from the SAIF coverage to coverage by the BIF as a result of their purchase. The theory behind this request is that some BIF insured banks that had bought SAIF insured deposits miscalculated their relative BIF and SAIF deposit bases, causing them to pay incorrect premiums. As a result, the FDIC made the banks whole that paid too much, and forgave the banks that paid too little.
Many Oakar banks calculated their SAIF obligations correctly, but several are now asking Congress to grant them cash, as if they had made a mistake when they calculated.
What impact, if any, could this have on the Deposit Insurance Fund?
Do you want me to wander through that again?
Mr. POWELL. No. That impact could be as much as $500 million.
Mrs. KELLY. I'm sorry, sir, could you repeat that?
Mr. POWELL. That impact could be as much as $500 million.
Mrs. KELLY. Five hundred million dollars, that would be the impact.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. POWELL. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. KELLY. OK, that's at least good for us to know and we perhaps need to address that. Thank you.
Another question I had was brought up by one of the people on my banking advisory committee. They were talking about municipal deposits. And the question is, do you think municipal deposits ought to get 100 percent insurance coverage, or should they get some other higher level of coverage, and if so, what level of coverage do you think is appropriate for municipal deposits?
Mr. POWELL. I'm concerned about providing complete protection for any class of depositors. We're willing to talk about this, but I would say that I'm not persuaded that there's strong public policy argument for raising the limit on municipal deposits at this time. We at the FDIC would be more than willing to listen to those arguments for raising those limits.
Mrs. KELLY. But you are willing to think about this?
Mr. POWELL. Yes, we would be willing to talk about it and think about it.
Mrs. KELLY. Perhaps you'd want to get back to the subcommittee and let us know what you're ponderings are?
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. POWELL. Sure, I'd be happy to do that.
Mrs. KELLY. I want to link that then to another issue that they brought up which was what level of coverage you think that the retirement accounts, like IRAs and 401Ks should receive, and should co-insurance be considered for higher coverage of mutual and retirement accounts?
Mr. POWELL. There's been some history, as I mentioned in my testimony, I think Congress chose to raise the retirement accounts, the IRAs and Keoghs to 2 1/2 times the coverage that was in place in 1979. So with that formula, that would raise the coverage to $250,000. We have done some work at the FDIC looking at the number $500,000, and do not believe that between $250,000 to $500,000 that there would be any impact on the fund, but of course that is based upon some assumptions that we don't know, in fact, would happen.
But, 2 1/2 times, it seems to me, would be a reasonable number.
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you, Mr. Powell. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to go up to the floor so I'm going to yield the rest of my time to Chairman Bachus.
Chairman BACHUS. Thank you. And what I'm going to do, I've got several Members that want to participate in the money laundering debate on the floor too, so I'm going to yield at this time, and then when they are through, I have a few questions.
The gentleman from Texas.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BENTSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Powell, my fellow Texan, I'm sorry I missed the opening part of your statement and I, unfortunately, have not completed your testimony, but I was able to glean some information from it.
From reading the initial part of your testimony, you seem to at least partially endorse the report of your predecessor in the approach that she and your staff were trying to take to reform in the FDIC, I'm sorry, the deposit insurance program. I agree with you on the merger of the funds. I think that makes perfect sense.
You sort of get into some detail of more of a risk-based pricing model, which I also think makes sense, and rather than giving just a cash rebate back, you would want to, you just want to carry it forward on basically a credit against future assessments, and I think that makes some sense also.
I particularly like the idea of trying to get away from this sort of counter-cyclical pricing approach.
What I'm curious about is one of the things that I think your predecessors proposed was that even with a risk-based pricing and even with credit assessments, if I understood this correctly, that there would always be some assessment so that you could never get to zero in effect, so that there was always some cash flow coming into the fund in the event that you hit a real bump in the road.
And we have seen, not in this industry, but in other industries, the bumps in the road can come out of nowhere, as we saw in the airline industry and potentially in the insurance industry because of September 11th.
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Is that your position as well, that even with the, if we were to develop a model or legislation off of your testimony and off of the FDIC's proposal, as modified by you, with the assessments, with the credit allocation, with the risk-based pricing, that there would still be at least, there would always be some premium that would be paid?
Mr. POWELL. Yes, sir. The thought behind that is that all institutions, we believe, benefit from FDIC insurance and every institution, even those that are extremely well run, offer some risk to the FDIC.
Mr. BENTSEN. Is it, and in the midst of everything going on, I realize banking policy isn't necessarily getting the full attention that this subcommittee might believe it deserves, but is this, is the reform of the deposit insurance system a top priority of the Administration, and is it something that you all will seek to push in this Congress?
Mr. POWELL. We have been in contact with the folks at Treasury and they have been informed of our position and we've had dialogue back and forth with the folks in Treasury. We at the FDIC, we believe that this is good public policy, we believe it's the right thing to do, and we will attempt to move this forward.
Mr. BENTSEN. Well, I'm glad to hear that, Mr. Powell, because I do think that it's something that we ought to do. They're not as many other issues on the agenda, having passed Gramm-Leach-Bliley, that I think are as important to the industry. We, as you know from your prior life, we have debated this issue for some time, long before I came here and hopefully not long after I leave, but we went through a number of machinations in 1995 and 1996. We came up with compromise language in 1996, but that was really left undone, and so I'm pleased with where your testimony is heading today, that you want to take the approach a step further and I encourage you to keep pushing, and at least for this Member, any assistance I can give in prodding the Administrationthey don't listen to me all that often, but to the extent that we can work together, I'm eager to work with you and I yield back the balance of my time.
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Mr. POWELL. Thank you.
Mr. BENTSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman BACHUS. Let's see, the gentlelady from Pennsylvania doesn't have questions, is that correct?
And the gentleman from California does not have questions.
Gentleman from Kentucky, no questions.
This is a great first hearing.
Let me go over what I, I just made some notes on your testimony from reading it yesterday, and let me sort of go down this list as opposed to some questions and answers, and make sure that maybe I'm hitting the highlights.
First of all, merge the funds?
Mr. POWELL. Yes, sir.
Chairman BACHUS. No across-the-board increase in the basic coverage now?
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. POWELL. Yes.
Chairman BACHUS. Index the present $100,000 limit to the Consumer Price Index, and adjust that every 5 years with the first adjustment 1/1/05.
Rounding in whole numbers in $10,000 increments, and then I think I also agree with you, and retain the coverage level even if the price level falls.
Mr. POWELL. Right.
Chairman BACHUS. Because if you didn't do that, you could actually cause some unease in the market?
Mr. POWELL. Right.
Chairman BACHUS. Increase the insurance limit for IRA and Keough deposits since existing Government policies encourage long-term savings, and middle income families routinely save well in excess of that amount.
Also higher IRA and Keough deposit insurance coverage promotes productive economic investment in growth, which is something I think Chairman Greenspan and other economists have asked this Congress to figure out ways to do.
The basis, and some people question why have two different limits, but you pointed out, I think, that in 1978, when it was established the IRA/Keough coverage at $100,000, while leaving basic coverage at $40,000, so we already have that precedent.
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While banks and thrifts account for just $220 billion of IRA Keoughs, the short-term impact to the reserve ratio could be dramatic, because of $2.5 trillion in IRA/Keoughs in the overall economy. And that's a concern for you. And the FDIC is going to study that before they make a final recommendation?
Mr. POWELL. Yes, sir.
Chairman BACHUS. And will that include in the amount to bring that coverage up to?
Mr. POWELL. Yes, sir.
Chairman BACHUS. Deposit insurance within the 1A category can be priced according to risk using the existing system of subjective indicators. Then you're going to add six additional objective financial indicators?
Mr. POWELL. Yes, sir.
Chairman BACHUS. And I do have, I'm going to have a follow-up question on that. Grant future assessment credits allocated in proportion to past assessment payments using 1996 as a baseline date when both funds have been capitalized. And I will have a follow-up on that too, I think, if no one else asks it, about how we compute that, if one institution's acquired another institution.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But, you're not going to provide a cash out of the fund now due and that's due to the uncertain economic environment? And obviously, I don't think anybody would argue with that. I probably shouldn't have said no one will argue with it, but I think your position is certainly reasonable.
Eliminate the 23 basis point cliff effect to ensure that new deposit growth no longer triggers premium increases. That's something that this subcommittee has also identified. I think there's some pretty broad agreement by the industry and the regulators.
I've got four more questions, and this is now getting into something that is maybe where the industry and regulators might see some disagreement.
Provide the FDIC board with the flexibility to set the fund ratio's target size, determine the speed of adjustments toward the target and charge appropriately for risk at all times. Although no target range is specified, the current 1.25 percent level is a reasonable starting point for the new system. Avoid hard targets or automatic triggers in managing the fund's growth or shrinkage.
Now in regard to that, as I see it, you're actually saying let the FDICbasically it almost appears to be a request for total discretion. You're a Main Street banker, is the industry comfortable with that? I'm asking you as a regulator, but you've been in the business for 30 years. Is the industry comfortable withand I'll stop, I've got one more.
Mr. POWELL. Mr. Chairman, I think you're correct, but I would add this to it, that there would be some parameters and some accountability back to Congress on an annual basis. I mean, we are willing to work with Congress about setting some parameters as relates to our discretion, but in fact, we would like to manage the fund without some hard targets associated with it.
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I look at it, not unlike a loan loss reserve at a bank. We, at the FDIC, should have the ability to make sure that we understand the risks in the system. It's a commercial bank and I have my loan portfolio. I need to assess what the risk is without saying that my reserves should be 2 percent of loans or 1 percent of loans or 5 percent of loans, because the risk varies from time to time. And the risks will vary from time to time and we are simply asking that we be allowed, with these parameters in place and with reporting back to the Congress, of being accountable back to Congress, that we manage that risk, because risk is ever changing, to be fair to the system. And we have the data we think that would enable us to assess the risks.
Chairman BACHUS. I agree with you that, you know. Hard targets are not the way, and that rangesyou know, we talked about ranges, but I don't know that we've ever talked about not having a bottom of the range and a top of the range. Maybe there are extenuating circumstances, and let me tell you the reason I'm saying that.
Two reasons, two concerns. One is the bank needs to know at a certain capitalization rate the Government is not going to be asking me to put more in, and you know, at a certain level, I know that I've probably got to start paying more. And you know, I see, as that ratio goes up and down, there's some predictability that I can make in business judgment.
But another concern is, not while you're Chairman, but what is to prevent a new Chairman, unless there are some ranges, of saying we're going to raise the ratio to givewe're going to punish thewe're going to finance some of the operations with this.
Mr. POWELL. I've been on that side, Mr. Chairman, yes.
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Chairman BACHUS. You see what I'm saying?
Mr. POWELL. Absolutely.
Chairman BACHUS. As a banker, I think they'd be able to raise it to 2 1/2 percent.
Mr. POWELL. It gets back to that accountability. I think we need to be accountable, and we would again work with the Congress. It may be there should be a minimum, there should be a maximum. We would again be willing to listen to any of those views, be they your views or any other Members of Congress.
Chairman BACHUS. You know, at a certain point, and as I've said before, you've come from Amarillo, you've come from the real world, and you know that there is a ratio at which, whether it's 1.5, 1.8, where banks, even that, you know, a one-half of 1 percent or one-quarter of 1 percent makes you competitive or non-competitive in the marketplace.
Mr. POWELL. Yes sir, I think your point is very good and I want to stress that we want to be accountable. Accountability is something that we at the FDIC understand and we want to be accountable to Congress. And we would listen to any standards that Congress may want to put into that. We would just simply say that the economy moves from time to time, and a benchmark of 1.25 has served us extremely well in the past, but in the future, perhaps that should be managed in a different way. So we're willing to listen and willing to work with you.
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Chairman BACHUS. Particularly, you know, the industry doesn't agree, but the regulatorsand there are certain people saying there ought to be at least some premium paid, and at some level, I think we all agree that an assessment, when there's a certain capitalization rate, there's probably no need to go above that.
Mr. POWELL. Absolutely, yes, sir.
Chairman BACHUS. My first question is this. Well, let me, I had one other point, I think here, and that would maybe complete what I've sort of gone over your testimony just some high points, is the combination of risk-based premiums and assessment credits tied to past contributions would help to fix the problems related to rapid growers and new entrants. And I think that's a real concern among many people in the industry.
Mr. POWELL. Yes, sir.
Chairman BACHUS. Other than the new entrants and fast growers that aren't at all concerned about that problem, but I think that's a good recommendation. And here's my first question, it's sort of a follow-up. There's widespread industry concern that well-managed, well-capitalized institutions with ratings of 1 or 2 should not have to pay premiums. Why should premiums be reimposed on these institutions if their 1A assessment rating and high ratings accurately reflect their risk profile and financial condition? And I'll just ask the follow-up now and you can answer it all.
And how do you persuade those institutions to support a proposal to pay premiums for the first time since 1997?
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Mr. POWELL. I think that question really needs to be answered in taking into consideration the credit assessments that we are recommending. But we believe that every institution, in fact, does have some risk to the Fund. The FDIC has data that supports that statement in that banks in the past that have failed, and I don't have that data before me, but clearly, banks of a rating of 1 and 2 represented some percentage of the banks that failed 2 and 3 and 5 years later.
So all banks have risk. And all banks benefit from FDIC insurance. Thus, it would seem to me that all banks should pay, again based upon the risk, and those that have paid in the past and those that are the best rated banks will receive some credit assessment, and obviously the premiums would be much lower for the best rated banks than those that present a higher risk to the system.
Chairman BACHUS. I think your response is very concise and hits two or three of the points very well, so I agree with you, and I think many on this subcommittee do.
How do you perceive the public's reaction to a modest increase in the deposit insurance coverage limit of, let's say, $10,000 or $20,000 or is there a minimum that it goes up or $30,000 or even $40,000? What is the estimated effect to the Fund and the Fund ratio from such increases?
Mr. POWELL. The FDIC has done lots of work as relates to that and, Mr. Chairman, I would tell you that under the current proposal that the impact on the Fund is not material. That has lots of assumptions, of course, based upon it as we go forward depending upon what happens in the economy, but it's not material.
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Chairman BACHUS. At this time, I'm going to yield to the gentlelady from California, and invite you to make an opening statement, and I have explained to the Chairman that our money laundering bill is on the floor and that traditionally the minority Member as well as the Chairman were to be there, but the Chairman of the Full Committee is there on my behalf, and I think Ms. Waters has come from the floor.
Ms. WATERS. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. You're absolutely correct. Our bill is on the floor and a lot of other things are going on. But I certainly wanted to be here, Mr. Chairman, and I thank you for calling this hearing, the third in a series on Federal Deposit Insurance Reform, and I'm pleased that we'll be hearing from the new FDIC Chairman, Donald Powell, as well as Professor Rick Carnell, Mr. Nolan North, and Professor Kenneth Thomas this morning.
Deposit insurance has served America well for almost 70 years. It has maintained public confidence in our banking system throughout times of prosperity and times that weren't so good. It is important that we examine these issues closely in order to maintain and strengthen today's system for tomorrow's consumers.
Earlier this year, the FDIC released its report on deposit insurance reform which highlighted a number of major issues, including deposit insurance is currently provided by two different funds at two different prices. Deposit insurance currently cannot be priced effectively to reflect risk. Deposit insurance premiums are highest at the wrong point in the business cycle, and the value of deposit insurance does not keep pace with inflation.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, 92 percent of all institutions are currently paying nothing whatsoever for their deposit insurance coverage. This zero premium system became law in 1996, the same year that Congress passed Welfare Reform. Welfare Reform legislation was designed to reduce Federal assistance to poor people, the very same year that we decided that banks need not pay anything for Federal Deposit Insurance coverage.
This does make good sense. I have a stellar driving record and my insurance company may have more than adequate cash reserves, but I still pay a premium for insurance coverage or I can't drive my car.
As we examine various proposals for deposit insurance reform, we should keep this fact in mind. Banks should pay something for their insurance coverage.
I look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses so that we can ensure that we have a deposit insurance system that will serve us well throughout the new millennium.
I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I'm going to try to stay as long as I can.
Chairman BACHUS. Thank you.
We'll go back to questions. This is going to be the longest question I'm going to ask you, so you get through this one, you'll have my longest question.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What objective financial and market factors should be considered when assessing premiums based on the risk posed by large and complex institutions, and how do you ensure large and small institutions are assessed premiums fairly and consistently?
Mr. POWELL. That's our objective, obviously. The answer to the latter part of your question is we want to be consistent and fair, and that the system be transparent between large and small institutions. There are several market factors that perhaps are data we could use. I think there has been some work on that as it relates to some other capital work that's being done by the regulatory bodies.
There are numerous market factors that we could look at and we're willing to look at those and to listen to the larger banks about something that they would like to see as part of our risk-based model.
Chairman BACHUS. All right, and I'm going to ask a follow up. I think you probably, you don't have to answer this today. What I might do is submit that question and some others just for the record in writing and get a comment.
The other part of that question, what is the appropriate size cut for regulators to distinguish large and complex institutions from small and middle sized institutions for regulatory and assessment purposes? I'm not sure that's something you can answer today.
Mr. POWELL. Give us a little bit of time on that, and we'll attempt to answer that question for you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairman BACHUS. I think that's totally reasonable.
At this time, I will yield to the lady from Pennsylvania.
Ms. HART. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm sorry I wasn't here for the entire discussion, Chairman Powell, but I appreciate you coming before this subcommittee.
You discussed in your statement, as I've been reviewing it, how an assessment credit would work instead of a rebate where the institutions would receive credit toward their future assessments based on their past contributions to the Deposit Insurance Fund, and how it would be based on the institution's relative deposit base at the end of 1996, which for an institution that existed in 1996 in its current form, is pretty straightforward.
How would you address a situation which is becoming more and more common where a banker/thrift has acquired one or more institutions since the end of 1996, and would the acquiring institution assessment include the credits that had accrued to the acquired institution and how would that work? And how would you make sure that that's sort of done, I guess, in a balanced and fair way?
Mr. POWELL. Yes. Would the acquiring institution get credit for the past assessments paid by the acquired institution? The answer is yes. And we would have the records and data necessary to make sure that that, in fact, happens.
Ms. HART. I'm sorry, could you repeat that?
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. POWELL. Yes. I'm answering your question that if an institution acquires an institution, both would be combined together as if they were one institution so that we get total credit for both of those institutions.
Ms. HART. So it would be the
Mr. POWELL. The acquiring institution would get credit for the past assessments paid by the acquired institution.
Ms. HART. OK. So all their assessments would be added together with the assessments for the new one?
Mr. POWELL. Yes, ma'am.
Ms. HART. What about the combined
Mr. POWELL. It would be combined.
Ms. HART. From that date forward?
Mr. POWELL. That's right.
Ms. HART. OK. And is there anything about that that you'd be concerned about as far as like an imbalance because of the, I don't know, the change in size. There's no concern that you have about that?
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Mr. POWELL. No, I really don't have any concern. I think we have the data necessary to calculate it.
Ms. HART. OK, so it's just a typical additional kind of thing?
Mr. POWELL. Yes, ma'am.
Ms. HART. OK, thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman BACHUS. Chairman Powell, if there are no other questions from Members of the panel, at this time we're going to discharge you to get back to the important work of the FDIC. We very much appreciate your testimony.
I will tell you that I did not formulate that question on municipal deposits. My staff did, knowing my concern about municipal deposits and that's why you were asked it. But I did not put anybody up to asking you that question.
I will tell you this. The public policy, I think, behind some greater level for municipal deposits is simply that when you have a small county or rural county, the people in that county, they want to be able to invest with their local institutions, their water boards, their school boards, their county government. They like those taxes to stay home if they can. At the same time, they want it federally-insured.
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I am in total agreement with you that it would be foolish to have an open-ended guarantee on municipal deposits with no level or no limitations. And I think one of the problems that maybe the FDIC has with that, the problems that we've had in struggling with it, is it sounds like a good idea. There is, I think, a public policy consideration for it, but how do you draft it and how do you get to sound legislation, and we're still in search of something that protects the public and protects the Fund, and is not discriminatory. So I do appreciate your comments, and as I said, you've been in banking for 30 years, you bring a world of experience from the institutions into this job. And I'm excited about working with you.
Mr. LUCAS. Mr. Chairman? Over here.
Chairman BACHUS. Mr. Lucas.
Mr. LUCAS. Would not a county government, a city government, a sewer and water board each have their own insurance since they're not combined? Is that not true?
Chairman BACHUS. I beg your pardon?
Mr. LUCAS. Well, I mean, each entity has their own limits so it's not, they don't aggregate all those deposits together.
Chairman BACHUS. That's right. In fact, a water board could deposit $100,000, you know, and the school board. But, you know, as I think the Chairman knows, as you know, even in a small county, a water board or a gas board could have several million dollars in deposits and probably would have. So what they're having to do is that 95 and 98 percent of their money sometimes is deposited outside the county.
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Mr. LUCAS. OK, thank you.
Chairman BACHUS. But that is a valid point, that you're talking about, the governments divided and they're different accounts.
Mr. Chairman, at this time, panel one is adjourned.
Mr. POWELL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Chairman BACHUS. At this time, we will recognize our second panel.
Mr. Richard Carnell, Associate Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law. I have his resume before me. He teaches courses in banking law and corporations. Also taught corporations in law school, so I understand that to be a difficult job, and a write-in lecturer on a wide range of topics. Served as Secretary of the Treasury of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Financial Institutions and Consumer Financial Service. A note of interest to this subcommittee is that you advised Secretary of the Treasury, Lloyd Bentsen and Bob Ruben, and other Clinton Administration officials on financial services issues. You led the Administration's successful efforts to secure legislation in several fields including clean-up of the savings and loan industry, authorize interstate banking and branching, resolve problems with the FDIC's SAIF Fund, and many other things. You were actually senior counsel in the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, so you certainly understand how we function here, and on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from 1984 to 1987. And were a practicing attorney at one time in San Francisco, a graduate of Harvard Law School and Yale University. We've not heard of those institutions, but I'm sure they are credible.
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Our next panelist, Nolan North, is Vice President and Assistant Treasurer of T. Rowe Price Associates. Anybody that watches CNBC knows about T. Rowe Price. Responsible for the overall management of bank relations for T. Rowe Price including credit facilities and banking services, and also responsible for the implementation of modern cash management techniques. You've got a wide range of experience in banking and treasury management. Before you joined T. Rowe Price, you were a bank relations manager, assistant treasurer of a major insurance company, a sales manager for a leading treasury management bank, and department head of a marketing research firm specializing in treasury management. Past Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Association of Financial Professionals, Member of the Government Relations Committee, you currently serve NACHA as a member of the board of directors, you're on the Next Generation ACH Task Force, and various other activities.
And the reason I'm reading these is because our panel is all quite distinguished and have tremendous experience behind them, a very esteemed panel.
Dr. Kenneth Thomas, Lecturer in Finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania since 1970. Teaches banking, monetary economics at Wharton. You receivedthis is quite impressive herean Excellence in Teaching Award in May, 2001. Congratulations for that. You've been a bank consultant since 1969, working with several hundred banks and thrifts throughout the country on a CRA, also on fair lending and regulatory issues. Your first book on CRA, ''Community Reinvestment Performance'' was published in 1993. Many of the book's recommendations were directly implemented in the revised CRA, and you won an award of excellence for that book. Your most recent book ''The CRA Handbook'' contains the most comprehensive evaluation of CRA exams ever conducted, including a new technique for evaluating and quantifying CRA grade inflation. You received your BSBA degree with high honors in Finance from the University of Florida, who lost this past weekend in football to where I got my undergraduate degree, Auburn University. Put a real licking on the Florida Gators.
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Chairman BACHUS. You have an MBA in finance from the University of Miami, and an MA and PhD in finance from the Wharton School. You are a regular speaker and writer in the banking and thrift industries, frequently quoted in articles on these topics. I've seen you on CNBC. It also says here you appeared on CBC, CNN, Nightly Business News, and NPR. I probably saw you on those too. But you're a biweekly commentator on the net financial news.
Finally, advised Federal bank regulators on public policy issues, testified before Congress on several occasions on various bank regulatory issues. Are you at the University of Pennsylvania or are you in Miami?
Dr. THOMAS. I live in Miami, but I commute once a week to Philadelphia to teach at Wharton as I've been doing for the last 30 years.
Chairman BACHUS. Wow, boy, you need to testify to us how you can live in Miami and work at Wharton. That's great. But, no, I understand that.
And we welcome all you gentlemen and look very much forward to your testimony. The Members, or most of them, are on the floor on a money laundering bill which is legislation. Having worked on the Hill and testified on the Hill, you know we don't sometimes set the agenda, and they actually put that bill on the floor at 10 o'clock this morning, because it's part of the Administration's and the Congress' ways to address terrorism and the events of September the 11th. Those are high priority items at this time.
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Your testimony, though, will be distributed to the Members, will be read by the Members, and has already been read by this Member, so I appreciate your testimony and at this time, we will start with you, Dr. Carnell.
STATEMENT OF RICHARD S. CARNELL, Ph.D., ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF LAW, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
Dr. CARNELL. Mr. Chairman and Members of the subcommittee, I'm pleased to have this opportunity to discuss deposit insurance reform. Federal Deposit Insurance does many good things, but it also impairs market discipline. Without proper safeguards, deposit insurance can
Chairman BACHUS. Let me interrupt something, and I don't know how there's a good way to do this. We've got a floor vote right now. Instead of doing part of this and then coming back, it's just one vote, and I beg your indulgence.
Dr. CARNELL. I'm glad to wait, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman BACHUS. If we could recess, I will go vote. I think it would give other Members an opportunity to hear your testimony, in fact. So we're going to recess, and Dr. Carnell, I very much apologize for not knowing that before you started. I apologize for interrupting you.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I'm going to go vote, we'll recess for 10 minutes, come back here and have your testimony. And I hope in your travel plans, is this going to prejudice any of you in making connections?
Chairman BACHUS. OK, great, we will be 10 minutes.
Chairman BACHUS. The hearing is now called to order.
Dr. CARNELL. Mr. Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance does many good things, but it also impairs market discipline. Without proper safeguards, deposit insurance can encourage banks to take excessive risks, for safe banks to subsidize risky banks, and saddle the taxpayers with large losses. To avoid such problems, we need risk-based premiums as well as effective supervision.
Risk-based premiums are fair and they help give insured banks a healthy set of incentives. Banks with less capital, banks with weak management, and banks that take big risks will pay more than safe, well-managed banks with lots of capital. This gives banks incentives compatible with the interests of the Insurance Fund.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But a 1996 Amendment has undercut risk-based premiums. I'll call this the Zero Premium Amendment. If a deposit insurance fund meets its reserve target, the FDIC can charge premiums only for banks that are not well capitalized or have other obvious and significant problems. The zero premium amendment currently covers 92 percent of all FDIC insured institutions. These institutions differ greatly in their riskiness. The amendment hinders the FDIC in refining risk-based premiums to take proper account of these differences.
The amendment has also given rise to a serious free rider problem. Note that if banks paid premiums according to their riskiness, no bank would get a free ride. The zero premium amendment is like a law regulating automobile insurance companies that would require every company with adequate reserves to insure safe drivers free of charge, and would allow any company with inadequate reserves to charge safe drivers only to the extent necessary to rebuild its reserves. No private company would provide auto insurance under such circumstances, nor should the Government continue to provide deposit insurance under such constraints.
The zero premium amendment is unsound policy, it's had adverse results, and it should be repealed so that risk-based premiums can work as intended.
I also support easing the minimum premium requirement that would now apply if a deposit insurance fund missed its reserve target for more than a year. The FDIC would have to set premiums very high even for safe institutions. That would undercut risk-based pricing and it would also put additional stress on banks at just the wrong time, during an economic downturn.
Mr. Chairman, many years ago, I lived in a house with an oven that had only two temperatures; off and 600 degrees. The current premium rules are like that oven. The zero premium amendment is off and the minimum premium requirement is 600 degrees. Reform here makes sense. I suggest lowering the minimum and narrowing the circumstances when it would apply. And I spell out the details of that in my written statement.
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I recommend against paying rebates from the insurance funds or capping the fund's reserves. We don't know what reserve levels will end up being needed in the future. Bank failures are hard to predict accurately. They don't come neatly spaced out like deaths from old age; they come in clusters during hard times. So a deposit insurance fund can look fat and flush one year, and be in serious trouble just a couple of years later.
Although I oppose caps or rebates, I see possible merit in letting the FDIC grant risk-based assessment credits if an insurance fund's reserves exceed 1.5 or 1.6 percent. Banks could use these credits to reduce their future premiums. The FDIC would award such credits based on a combination of a bank's past premium payments and the bank's past and present risk to the FDIC.
Properly constructed, a system like this could help solve the free rider problem. It could also help the FDIC deal with the difficulty of measuring a bank's risk ahead of time, which is one of the greatest challenges in operating a risk-based system. But if you can do the credits after-the-fact, you can make an adjustment based on risk; then you won't have to guess. By the time you award the credits, you'll know which banks were riskier than others. So if a particular bank's premium ended up being higher or lower than it should have been, given what the FDIC later knows about capital management and other aspects of riskiness, the FDIC has the opportunity to make an appropriate adjustment when awarding credits.
I urge Members to take a skeptical view of proposals to index or otherwise limit the $100,000 insurance limit. Adjusted for inflation, it was the highest level in the FDIC's history and even if you adjust it for inflation between 1980 and now, it's still relatively high by historic standards. And also I believe that raising the $100,000 limit would do little to resolve community banker's complaints about losing deposits to other institutions.
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As the FDIC works to make the risk-based system better reflect banks' riskiness, I would urge Congress to resist any temptation to micromanage the FDIC. I have a thought, incidentally, Mr. Chairman, on the issue of municipal deposits. And that is it might be possible to provide insurance beyond the $100,000 amount, but not to insure the full amount of the deposit, that is, rather to provide insurance for 90 percent of the deposit. The risk to the local government would still be small, because they'd be 90 percent insured, and then on top of that, the bank's going to have some good assets, so even if there's a loss, uninsured depositors won't lose a hundred cents on the dollar; they might lose ten cents on the dollar. So you could provide insurance up to a reasonable amount that would go above $100,000.
Mr. Chairman, Congress has opportunities to achieve important deposit insurance reform. I very much hope that it does so, but I urge caution in dealing with demands for tradeoffs, like raising the $100,000 limit across the board. It would be better to postpone reform than to enact flawed legislation now.
Thank you and I'll be pleased to respond to questions at the appropriate time.
Chairman BACHUS. Mr. North. One thing we're going to do, we're not limited by the 5 minutes so, you know, if it's 7 minutes or 8 minutes, feel free to do that.
STATEMENT OF NOLAN L. NORTH, VICE PRESIDENT AND ASSISTANT TREASURER, T. ROWE PRICE ASSOCIATES, INC., ON BEHALF OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR FINANCIAL PROFESSIONALS
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Mr. NORTH. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Members of the subcommittee. I am here representing the Association for Financial Professionals, AFP, and its Government Relations Committee. Our comments today address why deposit insurance reform is important to corporate America.
AFP represents about 14,000 finance and treasury professionals who on behalf of over 5,000 corporations and other organizations, are significant participants in the Nation's payment system and have a sizable stake in any proposed changes in the deposit insurance assessment system. The stake of corporate America in deposit insurance is based on the premise that deposit insurance coverage is intended for depositors, not bankers. Yet, the voice of bank depositors is not often heard in this debate.
In your invitation to these hearings, Mr. Chairman, you asked if deposit insurance should be reformed, and we certainly agree it should. You also asked if the FDIC options paper had raised the correct issues, and we do think the right issues have been raised with one significant exception. That exception is, there has been no attempt to resolve the disparity between the balances covered by insurance and the balances on which assessments are based. We believe assessing only insured balances, instead of total balances, is fundamental to fair reform of the deposit insurance system.
Our members believe that their organizations are the dominant funders of the bank insurance fund, because banks pass through the deposit insurance costs to their corporate customers directly on the basis of total balance size, which is customarily well in excess of the $100,000. As a result, many businesses must both self-insure their deposits in excess of $100,000 and pay insurance premiums for those uninsured deposits.
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In effect, large corporate depositors subsidize the BIF through premium costs for deposits which are not insured by the fund. As with any insurance arrangement, the premiums should be based on what is insured.
As to the issues raised in the options paper, we do support the merger of BIF and SAIF. Regarding the coverage level, the deposit insurance coverage level should remain unchanged at $100,000. Some financial institutions feel that higher coverage limits would solve funding problems. However, deposition insurance coverage is not a competitive issue. Coverage is intended to cover depositors and benefit depositors, not benefit bankers.
The FDIC should be given discretion to set and adjust a range within which the reserve ratio may fluctuate in response to changes in industry risks and business conditions. Within that range, premiums should not be charged to well-managed and highly capitalized banks, because it would be our members who would end up paying that charge, even though they have decided to deal with well-capitalized and well-managed banks.
In other words, the deposit insurance system should retain the risk-based variable premium approach, based on meeting a range of required reserves. This is perhaps the most important reform being proposed. It would, among other benefits, allow the FDIC to mitigate the cyclical effects of deposit insurance pricing by not being tied to the 1.25 percent floor.
We oppose rebates on the basis that an equitable rebate method cannot be constructed. The entity bearing the premium cost, the bank customer, is unlikely to receive the value of any rebate. Among the benefits of moving to a reserves ratio system is that instead of rebating what are now seen as excess reserves, these reserves would just tend to move overall reserves toward the higher end of the reserve ratio range.
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Chairman Powell has suggested a method of providing assessment credits instead of rebates. This proposal is certainly better than rebates, and it deserves more review, because it could reduce the amount of assessments that are being passed through by a bank to its customers.
We absolutely oppose full coverage for any special category of depositors, municipal deposits or IRA accounts. Having any protected class of depositors is not good public policy. Full coverage of certain types of deposits reopens the moral hazard issue. Also a practical effect of this approach would be to chase away other types of depositors. It would not take long for corporations, as well as consumer advocacy groups, to understand that in banks with large municipal or IRA or other special interest deposits, their deposits would be subordinated in the case of bank failure.
Regarding de novo and rapidly growing banks, we do not feel that any well-managed and well-capitalized banks, regardless of how fast they are growing, should be expected to pay FDIC assessments when the BIF reserve is sufficiently funded.
Our written statement covers these issues in greater detail and we appreciate the opportunity to exchange these views.
Chairman BACHUS. I thank the gentleman.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF KENNETH H. THOMAS, Ph.D., LECTURER IN FINANCE, THE WHARTON SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
Dr. THOMAS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In past hearings, you've heard the views of the regulators and the industry on deposit insurance reform, specifically the April 2001 FDIC Report titled ''Keeping the Promise . . .''.
This morning, I bring to your consideration the views of a third party, the bank depositor. The 20 principles underlying the view of bank depositors are found in my testimony. The depositors' view is the most important view. Why? Because the FDIC established in 1934and this is one of my collectibles, a hard copy of the original 1934 annual report, the very first onestates on the very front that depositor insurance was for the depositors. The FDIC was to protect depositors, not to insure banks, but to insure depositors. And that's where the focus must be.
In other words, the only promise to be kept in ''Keeping the Promise'' is that to the depositor to insure deposits and maintain confidence in the system. I will also argue that the first two of the FDIC's five recommendations do exactly that; keep the promise to the depositors. But their last three recommendations do not, and in my opinion benefit the industry at the expense of the taxpaying depositor.
I should mention that I have nothing but the greatest respect for the FDIC, the former Chairman, and the current Chairman Powell and their excellent staff. In fact, back in the early 1970s, I was recruited by them and almost went to work for the FDIC; so I think it's a great organization, they've got top people there.
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Now in terms of their five recommendations, their first recommendation on the merger of the funds. Everyone agrees that's a no-brainer, and from the perspective of a depositor, this eliminates any unnecessary confusion. For example, if I deposit money in Washington Mutual, primarily insured by SAIF, is it going to be stronger than money I might deposit at Bank of America primarily insured by BIF, because, in fact, SAIF has a stronger DRR ratio than BIF? That confusion should not exist; there should be just one fund.
The second recommendation with the FDIC, which I agree with, is that every bank and thrift should pay deposit insurance based on their risk profile. Depositors want a strong fund where there are no free riders, especially the high flying Wall Street types like Merrill Lynch and Salomon Smith Barney. The two of them alone were responsible for a $20 billion increase in insured deposits in the first quarter of this year.
Now for the three FDIC recommendations that I feel are counter to depositors' perspectives. The third recommendation on ceilings: There should be no ceiling for the fund; it should be a capless fund. Like all funds, it should continue to grow without a cap for a rainy day, which may be sooner than we think with the current recession. If anything, the minimum 1.25 percent DRR, designated reserve ratio, should be increased to 1.5 percent. These ratios ensure discipline and accountability at the FDIC.
And again, from the depositors' perspective, they want a strong fund, run in a common sense manner, like any private insurance company would be run. And that gets to the fourth recommendation. There should be no rebates or no credits. I believe this is an unnecessary accommodation to the industry, apparently to win their support for deposit insurance reform. I lived through Hurricane Andrew, and I can tell you from the perspective of a major disaster like that, companies like Prudential, State Farm, Allstate, they do not give rebates if there was no accident or illness. Certainly they may give a better risk adjusted premium if you're a better driver or a better risk, but they do not give rebates.
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And can you imagine going years, as the banks have been doing, without being charged for premiums, as has been the case for 92 percent of the industry. It doesn't happen in the private sector and it shouldn't happen in the public sector. With today's volatile and uncertain stock market, and in my opinion, certain recession, depositors want to know that the fund behind their deposits is growing as much as possible with no cap, with no rebates, and with no credits.
Finally, on the recommendation of increasing the amount of deposit insurance: depositors do not want, do not need, and have not asked for any increase in deposit insurance coverage, whether it be doubled or just increased by inflation. Depositors don't want to be potentially confused with different coverage levels for different types of deposits.
According to the Federal Reserve, less than 2 percent of all depositors would benefit from a doubling of the insurance from $100,000 to $200,000, and now they have adequate alternatives. In fact, one Fed analyst has argued that we should be talking about reducing the coverage instead of increasing it or adding in some inflation adjustment.
In fact, on the issue of inflation, it's important to realize that the current level is actually in excess of the level from 1934 to 1969. It's only the artificially high level in 1980 of $100,000 that caused the problem.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, the Federal safety net is unfortunately getting bigger day by day. Much of this of course is in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks. First we had the $15 billion bailout, the $5 billion pure bailout and the $10 billion guarantee. Now we've got the insurance companies, and who knows who will come next to the Federal Government for a bailout? This is just not the time we should be thinking about increasing the Federal safety net, whether it be by doubling insurance coverage or adjusting for inflation.
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The FDIC only had five recommendations in their report. The depositors' view of bank reform also makes some additional recommendations not made by the FDIC. These are covered in my testimony.
For example, I would recommend a special assessment for the 25 largest banks those deemed too-big-to-fail, because of the additional risk they pose to the system. Also I would argue for expanded market discipline by regulators starting with the public disclosure of a safety and soundness rating and a portion of that exam.
I would merge the OTS into the OCC and consider even further consolidation among the regulators. And finally there should be better disclosure of non-FDIC insured products so depositors are not confused, especially many of our seniors, who cannot see some of the very small print in the advertisements.
In conclusion, two of the five of the FDIC's deposit insurance reforms keep the promise from the depositor insurance perspective. But, the other three are apparent accommodations to the industry for which the FDIC's only promise should be to be a fair regulator and supervisor in the public interest.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to present this depositor perspective.
Chairman BACHUS. Thank you. We've got about 4 minutes left on a vote. I am going, what I would like you all to do is your testimony you've given here today, if you have that in writing, you know, your written testimony, I would like to also have a copy of that, have an opportunity to maybe call you on some these aspects.
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I'm going to adjourn the hearing now and let you be available for some of the reporters, the press, and not ask questions because I'm told it'll be 25 minutes before we are able to come back.
But I appreciate your testimony. I thought it was all easy to understand, easy to follow, had some differences of opinion, but it's been very helpful.
At this time, the hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 11:56 a.m., the hearing was adjourned.]