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Federal Bank Regulators Release New Guidance for Management of Interest Rate Risk

On January 7, 2010, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), a collection of federal regulators of financial institutions, issued an advisory on interest rate risk management. This advisory, which was issued as part of an effort to supplement and clarify existing interest rate risk (IRR) guidance provided by individual federal regulators, indicates that federal regulators will have increased expectations during future examinations of a financial institution’s management, modeling, stress testing and documentation of IRR.

In light of the current economic environment in which financial institutions are experiencing downward pressure on capital and earnings, FFIEC has grown concerned with the potential IRR associated with institutions funding longer-term assets with shorter-term liabilities in order to generate earnings. As a result, as part of future federal examinations, IRR assumed by a financial institution will be evaluated relative to the institution’s capital and earnings levels, and management will be evaluated on its efforts to identify, measure, control and document the institution’s IRR.

In particular, FFIEC reiterates its previous position that the ultimate responsibility for the financial institution’s IRR rests with its board of directors; as a result, the board of directors or a specially designated asset/liability committee “should oversee the establishment, approval, implementation, and annual review of IRR management strategies, policies, procedures, and limits.” The board of directors is expected to receive and review regular reports that allow them to accurately assess the IRR sensitivity of the institution to an increasing rate environment and to the important assumptions that underlie management-proposed IRR and liquidity projections. Further, the board of directors is directed to approve comprehensive written policies and procedures in place to monitor and manage IRR continuously. Although the advisory indicates that these processes and systems “should be commensurate with the size and complexity of the institution,” FFIEC indicates that “well-managed institutions” possess IRR management policies that include specific targets under a variety of short and long term scenarios.

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FDIC Takes Dim View on Raising Capital via Minority Interests in Real Estate Subsidiaries

A number of banks have recently been examining the possibility of raising capital through the sale of a minority interest in a subsidiary set up to hold bank owned real estate such as bank headquarters and branches.

Part 325 of the FDIC Rules and Regulations indicates that Tier 1 Capital includes minority interests in equity capital accounts of those subsidiaries that have been consolidated for the purpose of computing regulatory capital, (except that minority interests which fail to provide meaningful capital support are excluded from the definition).   Stock held by minority shareholders in a bank controlled subsidiary whose assets are consolidated with those of the bank are not generally recognized as equity capital under GAAP, but the bank regulatory agencies have in the past counted it as regulatory capital.

We have been informed by the FDIC that the current regulatory view of such transactions is not favorable.   Their position is that subsidiaries typically are not normally formed for the sole intent of raising capital, and that minority interests usually arise when a bank acquires a pre-existing subsidiary.   From a corporate perspective, the FDIC is currently taking the position it will not be allowing banks to transfer assets to a subsidiary for the sole intent of raising temporary capital, particularly if the investors have a preferred claim or return on such assets.   Accordingly, institutions looking to raise capital are unlikely to find any relief by selling interests in the bank’s existing owned real estate.

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Summary of Federal Reserve Proposed Compensation Guidance

On October 22, 2009, the Federal Register published proposed guidance from the Federal Reserve for structuring incentive compensation arrangements at banking organizations.

There are several notable aspects of the proposed guidance. First, the Federal Reserve expects all banking organizations, not just entities participating in the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to review their incentive compensation arrangements in light of the guidance. Second, the guidance sets forth principles that banking organizations should follow and implement as part of their incentive compensation arrangements, but does not establish pay caps or other specific formulas for calculating incentive compensation. Third, the principles in the guidance apply to incentive compensation arrangements for executives, employees, and groups of employees who may expose the organization to material amounts of risk. They are not limited to compensation arrangements for executive officers or other highly compensated employees.

Principles of a Sound Incentive Compensation System

The Federal Reserve guidance is centered on three (3) main principles that should be followed when designing a sound incentive compensation system.

Principle #1: Balanced Risk-Taking Incentives

  • Incentive compensation arrangements should account for risks associated with employee’s activities when developing incentive compensation arrangements.

An incentive compensation arrangement should balance the risk and the reward associated with activities undertaken by the employee. This balance is achieved when incentive compensation paid to an employee accounts for the risks and the financial benefits associated with the employee’s activities. This may require banking organizations to reduce the amount of incentive compensation payable to an employee to account for the risks.

Example: Two employees generate the same amount of short-term profit, but the activities of one employee result in greater risk to the banking organization. Under a balanced incentive compensation arrangement, the employee whose activities result in a greater risk to the banking organization should receive less than the employee whose activities did not result in a greater risk to the banking organization.

  • Employees should understand how risk and risk outcomes are accounted for in their incentive compensation arrangements.

Banking organizations should communicate clearly to employees how an incentive compensation arrangement will account for risk and risk outcomes. The communication should include examples and should be tailored to the employees.

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Process for Requesting Determination of “High-Rate Area”

On December 4, 2009, the FDIC published Financial Institution Letter FIL-69-2009, which outlines the process for requesting a “high-rate area” determination by the FDIC to exempt the institution from compliance with the national rate caps.  As we’ve previously discussed, financial institutions that are less than well capitalized will be barred from paying in excess of 75 basis points above the national rate unless the institution is able to persuade the FDIC that the institution’s local market rate is above the national rate.  The new guidance confirms our previous understanding of the process the FDIC will use in approving high-rate areas, and provides additional clarify.

Less than well-capitalized institutions that operate in market areas where rates paid on deposits are higher than the “national rate” can request a “high-rate area” determination from the FDIC by sending a letter to the applicable FDIC regional office.  The letter must identify the market area(s) in which the institution is operating.  The FDIC appears willing to defer to the institution to identify its relevant market area, so long as it is a geographic area and does not arbitrarily exclude FDIC-insured institutions and branches operating in that geographic area.

The FDIC will use its own standardized data (average rates by state, metropolitan statistical area and micropolitan statistical area) to determine whether the institution is in a high-rate area.  While the FDIC will not consider any specific supporting data offered by the institution, institutions may still want to calculate the expected market rate for various markets in determining whether to identify a larger or small relevant market area.  The FDIC has specified that market areas may not consist only of a subset of banks with similar characteristics (such as asset size or retail focus) and cannot exclude branches of large institutions.

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Updated Guidance on Seeking a “High-Rate Area” Determination

The FDIC has not yet formally published the anticipated guidance on how an institution can seek a “high-rate area” determination under the national interest rate restrictions for less than well-capitalized banks.  However, based on conversations with FDIC officials, we understand that the FDIC is accepting requests that a bank be determined to be in a “high-rate area.”

We understand that the request should include a self-identification of the bank’s relevant market area.  The FDIC will not set specified market areas, but rather will consider the market rate identified by the institution.  Institutions are also encouraged to identify competing credit unions  if the bank believes the credit union is relevant to deposit pricing in the market.

The request does not have to include analysis of the rates being paid in the market, as the FDIC will use its own data to calculate the average rate paid in the Bank’s identified market area.  The FDIC will calculate the average rates paid in four standard types of deposit categories.  If the market rate exceeds the national rate by at least 10% in three of the four categories, the FDIC will designate the Bank’s market area as a “high-rate area.”

We expect official guidance from the FDIC to be released shortly.

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Updated Guidance on Prepaid Assessment Exemptions

Standards for Prepaid Assessment Exemptions

We understand that the FDIC has decided to exempt the following categories of financial institutions from the requirement to prepay three years of deposit assessments:

  • Institutions with a CAMELS rating of 4 or 5; and
  • Institutions that are less than well-capitalized.

Institutions falling in either of these categories should have already received an electronic letter from the FDIC confirming that they have been exempted from the prepayment of deposit assessments.

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FDIC Finalizes Prepaid Assessments Rule

On November 12, 2009, the FDIC adopted its final rule regarding prepaid assessments.  The final rule is largely unchanged from the FDIC’s initial proposal; the most significant change is that the FDIC will now refund any unused assessments after collection of the amount due on June 30, 2013, as opposed to December 30, 2014.

Effect

As noted by the FDIC, the prepayment of FDIC assessments primarily impacts liquidity – both of the FDIC Deposit Insurance Fund and the banks.  As the prepaid assessments merely represent the prepayment of future expense, they do not affect a Bank’s capital (the prepaid asset will have a risk-weighting of 0%) or tax obligations.

Given the higher FDIC assessments generally, and the elevated assessment rates for troubled banks, the prepayment of FDIC assessments could represent a significant cash outlay.  The FDIC’s online assessment rate calculator includes a prepayment tab to help banks estimate their payments

Exemptions

The final rule provides that the FDIC, after consultation with the institution’s primary federal regulator, may exempt any institution from the prepayment requirement if it determines, in its sole discretion, that the prepayment “would adversely affect the safety and soundness of the institution.”  The FDIC is required to provide notice to such institutions by Monday, November 23, 2009 if it has exempted the institution.  We are aware that the FDIC started mailing exemption letters on November 12th.

The FDIC has not indicated the standards it will apply for exemptions.  Based on the exemptions we’ve seen so far, it appears that all institutions subject to a formal enforcement action may be exempted.

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FDIC Issues New Guidance Relating to the Brokered Deposit/Interest Rate Restrictions

As we have discussed earlier, the FDIC has revised the brokered deposit/interest rate restrictions to create a presumption in favor of a “national deposit rate” starting January 1, 2010. Under this new rule, financial institutions that are less than well capitalized will be barred from paying in excess of 75 basis points above the national rate unless the institution is able to persuade the FDIC that the institution’s local market rate is above the national rate. As noted earlier, we anticipate that the presumption in favor of the national rate will be difficult to overcome.

On November 3, 2009, the FDIC issued Financial Institution Letter 62-2009 and Frequently Asked Questions that provide new guidance for financial institutions that would prefer to use a prevailing rate for their local market area instead of the new national rate. As described in its publication, the FDIC envisions a two-step process for financial institutions seeking to use a local rate basis. A financial institution that believes it is operating in a market area with deposit rates that are, on average, higher than the national rates must first request and receive a determination from the FDIC that it is operating in a high-rate area; the FDIC anticipates providing additional guidance explaining how banks can seek this threshold determination later this year. However, regardless of whether a financial institution receives such a determination from the FDIC, the new national rates will apply to all deposits outside the market area.

Should the FDIC provide a “high-rate area” determination to the financial institution, the bank or thrift must then calculate the effective rates for its local market. As today’s guidance makes clear, the prevailing rate in the applicable market area is the average of rates offered by other FDIC-insured depository institutions and branches in the geographic market area in which the deposits are being solicited. This prevailing rate includes not only other competing financial institutions, but also individual branches; in other words, a financial institution must determine the effective yield paid by each branch in its market area in order to correctly calculate the prevailing rate for its local market. This average must exclude the rate offered by the subject financial institution. The FDIC noted in its guidance that when an institution is calculating its prevailing market rate, before or after January 1, 2010, it must calculate this rate using the rates of all branches within its local market area. The FAQ provide several sample calculations.

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Red Flags Rule Compliance is Delayed to June 10, 2010 in a Last Minute Decision

The FTC announced over the weekend that, at the request of members of Congress, the compliance date for the Red Flags Rule is now delayed to June 1, 2010. This gives companies additional time to prepare their required Red Flags Rule Plans. The FTC has said it will continue to provide guidance on the development and implementation of these Plans, especially for companies who want to voluntarily adopt identity theft protection measures for the benefit of their customers and business reputation (Click here for the FTC’s Red Flags Rule website). This delay does not affect any other agency oversight or other federal regulations relating to data security and identity theft.

On a related note, a federal court (District of Columbia) issued the first ruling regarding the application of the Red Flags Rule on October 30, 2009. That decision held that the FTC may not apply the Red Flags Rule to attorneys. This case (and any appeals) are independent of the June 1, 2010 delay, but companies should keep an ear out for other decisions that may directly affect their industry.

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Policy Statement on Prudent Commercial Real Estate Loan Workouts

Regulators and financial institutions have been trying for some time now to come to an understanding of what type of how workout strategies affect the classification of loans and the corresponding impact on estimates of loan losses. On October 30 the federal banking regulators published guidance on prudent commercial real estate loan workouts that addresses these issues. The guidance addresses some of the most contentious areas of disagreement between banks and examiners.  One of those areas is the impact of a decline in value of collateral in situations where the borrower or guarantors have the ability to service the loan. The new guidance tells examiners that renewed or restructured loans to borrowers who have the ability to repay their debts according to reasonable modified terms will not be subject to adverse classification solely because the value of the underlying collateral has declined to an amount that is less than the loan balance. This is a significant change from the manner in which examiners have been classifying acquisition and development loans in the past and time will tell exactly how the examiners will in fact deal with such loans in the future.

A problem loan workout can take many forms, including a renewal or extension of loan terms, extension of additional credit, or a restructuring with or without concessions.  The key to any loan workout is that the renewal or restructuring should improve the lender’s prospects for repayment of principal and interest and be consistent with sound banking, supervisory, and accounting practices.

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