WASHINGTON Prudential Financial pleaded with regulators Tuesday to be kept off the list of risky nonbank financial companies that will be supervised by the Federal Reserve Board, but the company's appeal is still a long shot.
The Financial Stability Oversight Council, an interagency group that decides which nonbanks fall under the new Fed supervision regime mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, granted Prudential a closed-door hearing to let the insurance giant state its case.
"The company had requested an oral hearing, which the council granted and which was required to be held within 30 days of that request," said Treasury spokeswoman Suzanne Elio.
The outcome of its appeal may not be known for a while since FSOC can take up to 60 days to reconsider a decision after receiving new information from a designated firm. Yet the council could rule sooner if Prudential's appeal is rejected.
The Newark, N.J.-based insurance company was the only one of the three nonbank firms recently designated by FSOC that opted to challenge the decision. The council, which is headed by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and designates firms it views as "systemically important", also voted to name American International Group and GE Capital as the first nonbanks to receive the new label.
Observers have suggested that any effort by Prudential to challenge the decision may be a lost cause given action taken by global regulators last week to strengthen oversight of large insurance companies.
Prudential, AIG and MetLife were among nine insurance companies worldwide named last Thursday as globally systemically important insurers by the Financial Stability Board, in consultation with the International Association of Insurance Supervisors. The FSB recommended that such firms in the coming years should face tougher supervision, hold higher loss-absorbing capital and be required to submit resolution plans.
Global regulators' decision "puts Prudential in a corner when it comes out fighting with the FSOC," said Karen Shaw Petrou, a managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics Inc.
Similar to the list of global systemically important banks designated by the FSB, the list of insurers targeted by the board will be updated each November.
Mark Carney, chairman of the FSB, said the move "marks an important step toward more broadly addressing the risks" of such insurance giants. "These policy measures will be followed over time by a substantially strengthened comprehensive regulatory and supervisory framework for all internationally active insurers," he said.
The timing of the FSB's decision came just weeks after Prudential's decision to protest its FSOC designation, and mere days after the U.S. council advanced MetLife's name to the final stage of the process before the interagency group will make a final decision on its designation.
Even if Prudential wins its appeal, which seems unlikely, it potentially would still have to fight the designation on longer-term basis, some observers say.
Life insurance companies generally argue they lack the credit risk of other financial institutions because their capital base is tied to largely safe investments.
But Petrou said the financial crisis showed that even insurers' investments in seemingly safe corporate bonds and other triple-A rated assets can "erode in a nanosecond."
"Insurance capital is not the same thing as bank capital. It's a very different sector," she said.
Despite the designations, the Fed has largely held off detailing how it plans to supervise the insurance companies.
Officials from the central bank have tried to assure lawmakers they plan to "tailor" a set of enhanced prudential standards for firms designated by the council. In a final rule released earlier this month implementing general capital requirements under the Basel III accord, the Fed's board of governors agreed to delay any decision about how the capital rules would affect insurance-related holding companies.