Small banks’ tech discontent; Preparing for the end of Libor

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Stalemate
The CEOs of seven of the largest banks “sparred” with Democrats at a relatively uneventful hearing before the House Financial Services Committee. While the bank executives argued “the financial system is now much safer than during the last joint testimony a decade ago in the depths of the crisis,” committee chair Maxine Waters “showed little patience for the banks, saying they are ‘simply too big to manage their own operations.’” She also said the banks are “chronic” lawbreakers and “too big to care about the harm they have caused.”

“The nearly seven-hour hearing offered few surprises as the bank executives defended their track records,” the Washington Post comments.

Three CEOs — Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, James Gorman of Morgan Stanley, and Michael Corbat of Citigroup — told the committee they have “recently investigated their customers’ accounts to weed out possible Russian money laundering.” Moynihan and Gorman said they had found nothing, while Corbat said he “could not comment on ongoing investigations.”

Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee called for a hearing on bank misconduct. Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, Washington Post, American Banker

Earnings preview
First quarter earnings at the nation’s largest banks “won’t be terrible," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The Fed’s last rate increase was in December, so banks likely enjoyed some benefit from that during the quarter. Lending growth also has been surprisingly robust. For firms with big Wall Street arms, though, there will be more negatives. Despite some recent high-profile deals, initial public offering activity was weak for the quarter. Merger and acquisition activity also has been weak.”

Earnings season starts Friday with reports from JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and PNC. Here’s what to expect and what to look for.

Wall Street Journal

Fighting back
“Discontent is starting to simmer” at small banks that depend on their core providers of technology, mainly Fiserv, FIS, and Jack Henry & Associates. “Smaller lenders and some industry groups say the service providers’ onerous contracts and sometimes mediocre digital offerings have made it harder to keep up with big competitors. Executives at some small banks say they feel like they are becoming franchises of the core providers because they are so reliant on their technology. Firms are filing lawsuits, turning to financial-technology startups and trying to negotiate as a group for better contracts.”

Financial Times

The clock is ticking
Randal Quarles, the Federal Reserve’s vice chairman for supervision, said American banks have been “placed under regulatory scrutiny” over how prepared they are for the 2021 deadline to stop using the “scandal-tainted” Libor as a loan reference rate. Quarles said he expects banks to “conduct at least as much due diligence on the reference rates that they use as they conduct on the creditworthiness of their borrowers.”

“We have only a little over two and a half years until the point at which Libor could end, and the transition needs to continue to accelerate,” Quarles said at a roundtable event in Washington.

Crypto card
Coinbase, the cryptocurrency exchange, has launched a Visa-branded debit card in the U.K. "allowing customers to make purchases and cash withdrawals directly from their [cryptocurrency] accounts." The card be accompanied by a mobile phone app that will let users choose which cryptocurrency they want to use.

Don’t need money
A low-cost loan program announced last month “with some fanfare” by the European Central Bank “to pep up growth across the eurozone” has failed to attract many takers. “Despite rock-bottom interest rates, the appetite for debt across the eurozone was fading, with the percentage of banks reporting an increase in demand for loans to businesses in the previous quarter dropping to zero, from 9% at the end of last year. Analysts and investors say the fundamental problem is not one of supply, but demand: companies and households, many of them already indebted and facing uncertain prospects, do not want to borrow.”

Different strokes
Rather than “suddenly copying the slash-and-burn approach” of its trading rivals, which have put “safety before sales,” Goldman Sachs “is trying to schmooze a broader range of clients,” the paper says.

Quotable

“Things are changing a lot. You did well with deregulation in the last Congress. Please do not overwhelm us with requests for deregulation you really don’t need.” — House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., in a warning to the heads of seven large banks.

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