Lately, I have been thinking about exactly what it is that modern banking has evolved into. It is no longer about safety and security, instead focusing on speculation and trading. It has become impervious to the normal political process; it has consolidated to the point of being anti-competitive, with an enormous size advantage held by the top 10 banks versus smaller and/or non depository competitors.
Then, the solution dawned on me — all it would take is the right person (with the support of their board) sending a simple letter.
I slipped off to the near future, and grabbed a copy of a fascinating letter. It ended Too Big to Fail, eliminated taxpayer liability for reckless speculation, freed Hedge funds and investment banks from onerous regulations, and made the entire financial system safer and more stable. I was able to sneak it back home to 2012.
Here is that letter from the office of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s chairman, circa 2015:
May 23, 2015
Thank you for your cooperation in our most recent series of bank stress tests. We had hoped that these would not be required, but following the credit crises of 2007-08 and the more recent banking crises of 2014, the FDIC simply had no choice.
The results of these tests are in, and they are unfortunately much worse than we had hoped for. The recent losses of billions of dollars in trading has made it apparent that nearly every major depository bank is in far worse financial condition than previously believed. The majority of top 20 banks never fully recovered from the earlier crisis, and have insufficient capital to withstand any further pressure. This is especially a concern if the economy takes another turn for the worse, or if Housing begins its third leg down.
Capital reserves are insufficient to support the trillions in deposits of yours that we guarantee. Ever since leveraged speculation has become the primary business of these banks, we have grave concerns about the promises you have made to your depositors. The recent turmoil in Europe, the wild currency swings around the world, and that recent unfortunate incident in China has made the current state of banking extremely risky.
Following the most recent bank failures, the Federal Deposit Insurance Capital Reserves have fallen to perilously low levels. This pool of capital is the guarantor of public monies deposited in demand accounts in the actual bank divisions of your firm. We cannot sit idly by while this becomes exhausted due to your speculations, thus putting taxpayers monies at great risk. Nor can we assume unlimited liability in guaranteeing deposits at firms that were once depository banks but now have morphed into giant derivative trading casinos with potential liabilities measured in the trillions of dollars.
Therefore, as chairman of the FDIC, with the full support of my Board of Governors, we have decided upon the following changes:
1. Effectively immediately, we have increased the FDIC deposit insurance for any US bank that engages in ANY trading of derivatives or underwriting securities or other investment banking activities by threefold. This 3X fee increase goes into effect immediately. It applies regardless whether these trades are hedges for proprietary trades or are made on behalf of clients.
2. Effective in 90 days, we are LOWERING the insured maximum insured deposit liability to $100,000 per account for derivative trading firms. Effective in 180 days, the insured maximum insured deposit liability drops to $50,000 per account.
3. Effective in 1 year from today, on May 23, 2016, we will no longer offer deposit insurance for any firm that engages in derivative trading, underwriting securities or engages in Investment banking.
4. Any bank with fewer than 10,000 depositors or less than $5 billion in assets may apply for a discretionary waiver of these rules.
It is not our position to tell you what sort of non depository banking activities you may engage in. Those are business choices you and your firm are free to make. However, it is also our position not to engage in foolish insurance underwriting. We have elected to be more conservative in ourrisk management and assumptions, and therefore cannot guarantee the kinds of risks that your firms have been undertaking.
This action should delight many of you. In the recent speeches of several bank CEOs, many of you have longed for a return to the days of less regulation and a truer free market. Once you no longer qualify for our insurance due to your other businesses, you will be freed up from all of the onerous bank reviews and regulations that are part and parcel of FDIC insurance.
As a bonus, without the intervention of government guarantees, those of you who continue to have depositors will finally be able to compete in a free and open market. Without FDIC insurance, your depositors will be making their decisions based on your reputation, and their assessment of the safety and security of your operations — and not Uncle Sam’s willingness to continually bail you out.
You have the FDIC’s best wishes for success in the future — just not our insurance.
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact my office.
Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation