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Too Big To Fail Banks Still Failing ‘Living Will’ Tests

The big Wall Street banks are still Too Big To Fail. One of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, designed to prevent the need for future bailouts and other emergency actions by the government in the event of another financial crisis, is the requirement that systemically important banks demonstrate that they can be dissolved without destroying the financial system. This requirement is met by the banks submitting detailed plans for their resolution–commonly referred to as “living wills”–to regulators.

But, as was revealed today, most of the Too Big To Fail banks do not have realistic plans to wind down without taking the overall financial system with them. Federal regulators have now rejected living wills from JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Bank of New York Mellon, and State Street.

In order to be rejected, the big banks’ living wills needed to be found “not credible” by both the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Goldman Sachs’ living will was found insufficient by the FDIC but not the Fed, while Morgan Stanley’s living will was found insufficient by the Fed but not the FDIC. Citigroup was the only Too Big To Fail bank whose living will was acceptable to both regulators.

Theoretically, failing to have a workable living will lays the groundwork for the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to eventually break up the bank under Section 121 of Dodd-Frank:

The FSOC can also actively intervene in company operations to mitigate risks to financial stability. If a large bank holding company appears to pose a grave threat to financial stability, the FSOC has the authority to limit the bank’s products, operations, and affiliations with other companies, and can even require that the bank terminate certain activities, or transfer or sell its assets.

As many of these banks have continually failed to provide workable living wills, the FSOC could call for such break ups now.

The FSOC’s lack of action has become a major focus in the 2016 presidential campaign, with Senator Bernie Sanders pledging to appoint a treasury secretary who, as head of the FSOC, would use Section 121 to break up the big banks. Sanders says if this is not possible he will push for direct legislation from Congress to dissolve the Too Big To Fail banks.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly noted that such power exists in Dodd-Frank but has refused to offer a qualified response as to whether she will appoint a treasury secretary to use said power. She has offered no further direction on her position and does not support separate legislation to break up the banks. Instead, she keeps offering fundamentally incorrect statements that “shadow banking” poses the greatest danger. It is possible Clinton offered more details on her views on financial regulation during her lucrative speeches before Wall Street banks, but the transcripts remain hidden.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr
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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.