U.S. regulators directed five of the country’s biggest banks, including Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, to develop plans for staving off collapse if they faced serious problems, emphasizing that the banks could not count on government help.
The two-year-old program, which has been largely secret until now, is in addition to the “living wills” the banks crafted to help regulators dismantle them if they actually do fail. It shows how hard regulators are working to ensure that banks have plans for worst-case scenarios and can act rationally in times of distress.
Officials like Lehman Brothers former Chief Executive Dick Fuld have been criticized for having been too hesitant to take bold steps to solve their banks’ problems during the financial crisis.
According to documents obtained by Reuters, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency first directed five banks — which also include Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase — to come up with these “recovery plans” in May 2010.
They told banks to consider drastic efforts to prevent failure in times of distress, including selling off businesses, finding other funding sources if regular borrowing markets shut them out, and reducing risk. The plans must be feasible to execute within three to six months, and banks were to “make no assumption of extraordinary support from the public sector,” according to the documents.
Spokespeople for the five banks declined to comment. The Federal Reserve also declined to comment.
The recovery plans are being used as part of regulators’ ongoing supervisory process. In Britain, recovery and resolution plans have both been part of the living will requirements for large banks.
Mike Brosnan, senior deputy comptroller for large banks at the OCC, said the regulator continuously evaluates contingency planning at the banks and savings associations it supervises.
“Recovery plans required of the largest banks are helpful in ensuring banks and regulators are prepared to manage periods of severe financial distress or instability affecting the banking sector,” he said.
This summer, nine global banks submitted living wills to the Fed and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, and regulators released the public portion of the documents.
The recovery plans requested in 2010, meanwhile, have received little publicity. The names of the banks required to submit them have not been previously disclosed, and Reuters obtained them only through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Fed supplied Reuters with the letters requesting plans from banks, but not the banks’ actual plans because they were deemed confidential supervisory information. The regulator said it was withholding 5,100 pages of information.
Recovery plans have been mentioned in public before, but only in passing. In testimony to Congress in July 2010, Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said the “largest internationally active U.S. banking organizations” were working on recovery plans. The initiative stemmed from work led by the Financial Stability Board, a body that coordinates the work of international financial regulators, he said.
In a presentation in March, JPMorgan Chase said it had a recovery plan in place and said it was ordered by regulators. The presentation was organized by Harvard Law School and was closed to the media at the time, but is available online.