As of the end of August 2018, two key provisions of The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (aka the Crapo bill, S.2155, or increasingly, EGRRCPA) have become effective: the increase in the small bank holding company policy statement threshold and the increase in the expanded examination cycle threshold. Before looking at those provisions, I have to acknowledge the fabulous Wall Street Journal story by Ryan Tracy, “Can You Say EGRRCPA? Tongue-Twister Banking Law Confuses Washington.” Personally, I’m now leaning towards “egg-rah-sip-uh.”
On July 6, 2018, the federal banking agencies released an Interagency statement regarding the impact of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act that provided guidance as to which provisions were immediately effective versus which provisions would require further regulatory action. Included in this guidance was confirmation that the banking regulators would immediately implement EGRRCPA’s changes to the Volcker Rule, freeing most institutions with total assets of less than $10 billion from the constraints of the Volcker Rule. The regulators noted that they “will not enforce the final rule implementing section 13 of the BHC Act in a manner inconsistent with the amendments made by EGRRCPA to section 13 of the BHC Act.”
Unfortunately, two of the more significant areas of regulatory relief for community banks, the respective increases in thresholds for the small bank holding company policy statement and the expanded examination cycle were not granted such immediate effectiveness. While EGRRCPA required the Federal Reserve to act on the expansion of the policy statement within 180 days, anyone familiar with the deadlines set forth in the Dodd-Frank Act for regulatory action would not be holding their breath.
Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement Expansion. On August 30, 2018, the Federal Reserve published an interim final rule implementing the revisions to the small bank holding company policy statement. The Federal Reserve’s small bank holding company policy statement generally exempts such institutions from the requirement to maintain consolidated regulatory capital ratios; instead, regulatory capital ratios only apply at the subsidiary bank level. The small bank holding company policy statement was first implemented in 1980, with a $150 million asset threshold. In 2006, it was increased to $500 million, and in 2015, it was increased to $1 billion. Section 207 of EGRRCPA called for the Federal Reserve to increase the threshold to $3 billion, and the interim final rule implements this change.
With this increase, even more financial institutions, including some with significant operations, can take advantage of the use of non-equity funding, such as subordinated debt or holding company loans, to finance growth. The market for subordinated debt for community banks continues to expand, and the small bank holding company policy statement highlights to value of such financing.
Small bank holding companies can also consider the use of leverage to fund share repurchases and otherwise provide liquidity to shareholders to satisfy shareholder needs and remain independent. One of the biggest drivers of sales of our clients is a lack of liquidity to offer shareholders who may want to make a different investment choice. Through an increased ability to add leverage, affected companies can consider passing this increased liquidity to shareholders through share repurchases or increased dividends.
Of course, each board should consider its practical ability to deploy the additional funding generated from taking on leverage, as interest costs can drain profitability if the proceeds from the debt are not deployed in a profitable manner. However, the ability to generate the same income at the bank level with a lower capital base at the holding company level should prove favorable even without additional growth. This expansion of the small bank holding company policy statement would significantly increase the ability of community banks to obtain significant efficiencies of scale while still providing enhanced returns to its equity holders.
Institutions engaged in significant nonbanking activities, that conduct significant off-balance sheet activities, or have a material amount of debt or equity securities outstanding that are registered with the SEC would remain ineligible for treatment under the Policy Statement, and the regulators would be able to exclude any institution for supervisory purposes.
Expansion of 18-Month Examination Cycle. On August 29, 2018, the federal banking regulators published an interim final rule implementing the expanded examination cycle for certain small insured depository institutions. Section 210 of EGRRCPA called on the regulatory agencies to increase the consolidated asset threshold cap for well-managed and well-capitalized banks to qualify for an 18-month examination cycle from $1 billion to $3 billion.
As noted by Jim Edwards, a third-generation banker and the chairman and CEO of United Bank Corp. in Zebulon, Ga. in a recent ABA Banking Journal podcast, this expansion offers concrete regulatory relief to affected institutions. Minimizing the time spent preparing for regulatory visits allows management teams to focus instead on providing the best service to the bank’s customers.
Based on year-end 2017 numbers, an additional 445 community banks will be able to take advantage of the 18-month examination cycle and expanded small bank holding company policy statement.