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Behind Big Banks' Risk-Test Failures: Bad Governance or Overly Stringent Standards?

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When American Banker Editor at Large Barb Rehm broke the news earlier today that the 19 largest national banks had failed risk tests conducted by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, some readers were quick to cite the results as the latest evidence that new regulations have not solved the industry’s "Too Big to Fail" problem.  

"The gun is still pointed at our heads," said one. "Wake up folks, it ain't free market capitalism. They screw up; we pay. Plain and simple."

"Who is running [the U.S.'s] largest banks?" another commenter wrote. "They need to be told, reminded and required by regulators about internal auditing, risk management and succession planning – about motherhood and apple pie? What are the bank leadership and management there for?"

Still, others pointed out the failures may not be solely attributable to bad corporate governance.   

"I think after the 2008 crisis, national banks are being held to higher and tighter standards than ever before," one reader wrote.

That view was supported by Michael Brosnan, the head of the OCC's large-bank supervision who walked Rehm through the test results she'd obtained.

"We've raised the bar significantly," he acknowledged. Brosnan went on to emphasize that the OCC's latest tests differ dramatically from the ones big banks have grown used to.

"It's just a shift in focus," Rob Blackwell, American Banker's Washington Bureau chief explained in a follow-up video, noting that previously, the exam system had been concentrated on credit, liquidity, interest rate and price risk. "The OCC recognizes it doesn't work so it's overhauling that and focusing on operational, compliance, strategic and reputation risk."

One reader argued this shift in focus was less about preventing another financial crisis than about the OCC trying to overhaul a reputation for being in the big banks' pockets.

"Throw one more regulator in with the pile and let them all have a contest to see who is the toughest," the reader wrote. "I'm sure that will help free up lending for the masses."

What do you think contributed to the dismal performance? Are the megabanks failures at governing themselves or have standards just become much more stringent? Share your views in the comments sections below.

Jeanine Skowronski is the deputy editor of BankThink. You can contact her at Jeanine.skowronski@sourcemedia.com or follow her at Twitter @JeanineSko.

 

 

 

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Comments (1)
Unfortunately, this is the likely result when the management of the Too Big To Behave Banks are evaluated on actual performance rather than desired performance. Having the tests administered by the friendliest of federal bank regulators undoubtedly caught these institutions by surprise.
Posted by jim_wells | Friday, December 14 2012 at 4:53PM ET
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