WASHINGTON The top financial services regulators agreed Monday that they need better data in order to predict and prevent the next crisis.
At an open meeting of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, policymakers unveiled two plans to enhance data collection. One is to further the use of a so-called "Legal Entity Identifier," aptly described by one official as a "barcode for precisely identifying parties in financial transactions." The other is to launch a voluntary pilot program so regulators can obtain more and better information about bilateral repurchase agreements to gauge the threat they may pose to stability of the system.
During the meeting, regulators acknowledged that the proposals are wonky, but emphasized their importance.
It "sounds very technical in a lot of ways, but it's nothing short than having visibility into the risks we face in the future," said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the chairman of FSOC. "It's very important we pay attention."
Both plans originate from the Office of Financial Research, an agency within Treasury formed by the Dodd-Frank Act to ensure regulators have better information about systemic risks.
Richard Berner, the head of OFR, said at the meeting that policymakers need to make more consistent use of LEIs, which are designed to help regulators keep track of parties in a transaction. Berner said the fallout from the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 could have been different had such identifiers been in use.
"Had LEI been in place in 2008, the industry, policymakers and regulators would have been better able to trace Lehman's exposures across the system," he said.
Broader use of LEI would also theoretically reduce industry burden, making it easier for institutions to report information. Berner pushed during the meeting for "ubiquitous" use of LEI in all relevant rulemaking by U.S. financial regulators.
He said there are 300,000 LEIs already in use, covering institutions operating in 180 countries, Berner said.
"The benefits of the system will grow with it," Berner said.
Other FSOC members were broadly supportive of the adoption of LEI system-wide. Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said that an interagency working group has already been set up to "better utilize that information in our data analytics and supervision efforts."
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Martin Gruenberg also supported the effort, but asked Berner to identify gaps in the current reporting system. Berner specifically said that LEI could be helpful in looking at derivatives transactions, but added "there are gaps in the U.S. across the system."
"There are some rules that could benefit from adding the use of the LEI to reporting requirements," he said.
Some industry representatives said LEIs currently are only useful for swaps transactions.
"The only function LEI is useful for at this stage really useful, besides aspirational is the reporting of swaps transactions," said Tim Lind, Global Head of financial regulatory solutions at Thomson Reuters, in a recent interview. "Of the 300,000 or so LEIs that have been registered to date, the vast preponderance of those are swap participants."
But Lind said that is likely to change as regulators see the benefit of using LEIs to comply with Know-Your-Customer and other anti-money laundering rules.
"The next wave of LEI creation will be driven by KYC," Lind said. "That will certainly be a part of the equation."
During the meeting, Berner also talked about regulatory efforts to better understand repurchase agreements. The Federal Reserve Board has raised repeated concerns about repos, warning that institutions that rely on them too heavily for funding can be subject to rapid and debilitating runs.
Berner said that OFR and the Fed have launched a voluntary pilot program designed to gather more information on the bilateral repo market. He said the two agencies will begin data collection next year.
Berner suggested that regulators have a better understanding of the tri-party repo markets, in which a settlement is assisted by a clearing bank, such as the Bank of New York Mellon. But he said information about bilateral repos, which occur without a third party, is "scant."
"We do know that that part of the market is important," Berner added.
He said the information gleaned from the program will shape how regulators approach the bilateral market.
"Information gathered through the project will inform any future activity," Berner said. "We can't commit to follow any activities until we see what the pilot program shows."
Separately, the FSOC met in closed session after the open meeting on Monday to discuss the designation of another nonbank firm as a "systemically important financial institution." The FSOC did not name the institution, but MetLife has publicly said it is the target of a proposed designation. MetLife said Friday it had requested a hearing to contest the decision.
After the meeting on Monday, a Treasury press release said that regulators had agreed to allow an oral appeal of a nonbank SIFI designation, presumably referring to MetLife.
The FSOC meetings also came the same day the White House hosted a private meeting with financial regulators to discuss the safety of the system.
Josh Earnest, the White House's top spokesman, told reporters that President Obama "urged regulators to maintain focus on ensuring that prudent capital cushions are in place, particularly for the largest and most complex financial institutions and global firms, to provide further protection for the U.S. financial system."
Obama, according to his spokesman, also praised regulators' work on the Volcker Rule, which was finalized late last year after three years in development. He "urged participants to consider additional ways to prevent excessive risk taking across the financial system, including as they continue to work on compensation rules and capital standards," Earnest said.
Marc Hochstein contributed to this article.