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Did Congress Release Nearly All Banks from the Volcker Rule?

Yes.  

The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act (EGRRCPA) provided significant regulatory relief for community banks, including broad relief from the Volcker Rule’s prohibition on proprietary trading and investments in covered funds. As previously discussed, Section 203 of EGRRCPA provided an exemption from the Volcker Rule for institutions that are less than $10 billion and whose total trading assets and liabilities are not more than 5% of total consolidated assets. The exemption provides complete relief from the Volcker Rule by exempting such depository institutions from the definition of “banking entity” for purposes of the Volcker Rule.

On December 21, 2018, the financial regulatory agencies invited public comments on a proposal to implement the EGRRCPA changes to the Volcker Rule. The proposed rule provides that an insured depository institution is exempt from the Volcker Rule if “it has, and every company that controls it has, total consolidated assets of $10 billion or less and total trading assets and trading liabilities, on a consolidated basis, that are 5% or less of total consolidated assets.” While the proposed rule is not yet effective, the Federal Reserve has previously confirmed that it would not enforce the Volcker Rule in a manner inconsistent with EGRRCPA, so the proposed rule is effectively already in place.

Based on September 30, 2018 call report data, this change to the Volcker Rule exempted approximately 97.5% of the 5,486 U.S. depository institutions. (The actual number is probably slightly less, as some of those exempted depository institutions are affiliated with larger and/or foreign banks, each of which would remain subject to the Volcker Rule.) Of note, the $10 billion asset threshold is by far the most relevant determinant of the eligible relief. Based on that call report data (which necessarily excludes any trading assets and liabilities held by a parent company), only 0.15% of depository institutions had trading assets equal to at least 5% of their total assets (and only 0.16% of the institutions had trading assets equal to 3% or more of their total assets).

While few community banks ever engaged in proprietary trading before the Volcker Rule, EGRRCPA still provides meaningful relief from the compliance obligations of the Volcker Rule, the risk of inadvertently being deemed to engage in proprietary trading, or the prohibition from investing in covered funds (or the need to ensure that vehicles that were invested in qualified for an exemption from the covered fund definition).

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Acronym Soup: A Discussion of Regulatory Reform

On September 28th, Jonathan and I recorded a brief podcast on the impact of regulatory reform on community banks in 2018.  Before turning to substance, I first congratulated Jonathan on his ability to combine two of our shared passions: college football and mergers & acquisitions.  Jonathan’s post on a Football Fan’s Guide to M&A Transactions is an excellent application of college football coaching strategies that can be applied in any strategic planning discussions by boards of directors of any organization.  His further exploration of some of the principles that other SEC teams bring to bear on M&A thinking on Twitter is also something I encourage everyone to read.

On substantive issues, we primarily focused on reforms enacted under The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, or EGRRCPA, but also touched on the modernization of the Georgia banking code. Specific topics discussed include:

  • the expansion of the Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement;
  • the relaxation of the reciprocal brokered deposit rules;
  • Volcker Rule relief;
  • the upcoming regulatory off-ramp (or at least rest stop, if not fully an off-ramp); and
  • the increased threshold for the 18-month examination cycle and short-form call reports.
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Two Key EGRRCPA Provisions Now Effective

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.

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Senate-passed Regulatory Reform Offers Real Benefits to Depository Institutions under $10 Billion in Assets

On March 14, 2018, the Senate passed, 67-31, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, or S. 2155.  While it may lack a catchy name, its substance is of potentially great importance to community banks.

The following summary focuses on the impact of the bill for depository institutions with less than $10 billion in consolidated assets.  The bill would also have some significant impacts on larger institutions, which could, in turn, affect smaller banks… either as a result of competition or, perhaps more likely, through a re-ignition of larger bank merger and acquisition activity.  However, we thought it was useful to focus on the over 5,000 banks in the United States that have less than $10 billion in assets.

Community Bank Leverage Ratio

Section 201 of the bill requires the federal banking regulators to promulgate new regulations which would provide a “community bank leverage ratio” for depository institutions with consolidated assets of less than $10 billion.

The bill calls for the regulators to adopt a threshold for the community bank leverage ratio of between 8% and 10%.  Institutions under $10 billion in assets that meet such community bank leverage ratio will automatically be deemed to be well-capitalized.  However, the bill does provide that the regulators will retain the flexibility to determine that a depository institution (or class of depository institutions) may not qualify for the “community bank leverage ratio” test based on the institution’s risk profile.

The bill provides that the community bank leverage ratio will be calculated based on the ratio of the institution’s tangible equity capital divided by the average total consolidated assets.  For institutions meeting this community bank leverage ratio, risk-weighting analysis and compliance would become irrelevant from a capital compliance perspective.

Volcker Rule Relief

Section 203 of the bill provides an exemption from the Volcker Rule for institutions that are less than $10 billion and whose total trading assets and liabilities are not more than 5% of total consolidated assets.  The exemption provides complete relief from the Volcker Rule by exempting such depository institutions from the definition of “banking entity” for purposes of the Volcker Rule.

Accordingly, depository institutions with less than $10 billion in assets (unless they have significant trading assets and liabilities) will not be subject to either the proprietary trading or covered fund prohibitions of the Volcker Rule.

While few such institutions historically undertook proprietary trading, the relief from the compliance burdens is still a welcome one.  It will also re-open the ability depository institutions (and their holding companies) to invest in private equity funds, including fintech funds.  While such investments would still need to be confirmed to be permissible investments under the chartering authority of the institution (or done at a holding company level), these types of investments can be financially and strategically attractive.

Expansion of Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement

Section 207 of the bill calls upon the federal banking regulators to, within 180 days of passage, raise the asset threshold under the Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement from $1 billion to $3 billion.

Institutions qualifying for treatment under the Policy Statement are not subject to consolidated capital requirements at the holding company level; instead, regulatory capital ratios only apply at the subsidiary bank level. This rule allows small bank holding companies to use non-equity funding, such as holding company loans or subordinated debt, to finance growth.

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.

HVCRE Modifications

Section 214 of the bill would specify that federal banking regulators may not impose higher capital standards on High Volatility Commercial Real Estate (HVCRE) exposures unless they are for acquisition, development or construction (ADC), and it clarifies what constitutes ADC status. The HVCRE ADC treatment would not apply to one-to-four-family residences, agricultural land, community development investments or existing income-producing real estate secured by a mortgage, or to any loans made prior to Jan. 1, 2015.

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Thanksgiving: Regulatory Relief and Tax Reform

the-bank-accountOn the latest episode of The Bank Account, Jonathan and I discuss two business reasons for bankers to be thankful this holiday season, the Senate’s proposed regulatory relief legislation and legislative efforts for tax reform.

The Senate Banking Committee has released the text of proposed legislation providing real regulatory relief to community banks.  With ten Republican co-sponsors and nine Democratic co-sponsors, the measure would appear to have better odds than prior regulatory reform actions.   That said, no action is expected until sometime in 2018, and we’re still a long way away from adopted legislation.  The proposed legislation provides for significant regulatory relief for community banks, including:

  • a regulatory “express lane” for community banks with sufficient leverage capital ratios;
  • a limited exemption from the brokered deposit restrictions for CDARS and other reciprocal deposits;
  • Volcker Rule relief for traditional banks will less than $10 billion in assets;
  • an increase in the Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement threshold from $1 billion to $3 billion; and
  • an increase in the threshold for an 18-month exam cycle for healthy institutions from $1 billion to $3 billion.

Without attempting to predict how the tax reform legislation will ultimately end up, we also look at a few key provisions of the proposed house and senate versions of the Tax Cuts and Reforms Act.  One item discussed is the potential impact on deferred tax assets, including the likely hit to existing deferred tax asset valuations and the elimination of net operating loss carry-forwards going forward.  We also spend a fair amount of time addressing the need for all Subchapter S banks to begin the process of exploring the impact of the prospective reforms, particularly as it relates to the tax treatment for shareholders that are active in the bank’s management.  As Sub S elections have to be withdrawn by March 15th to be effective for the whole year, the time to start planning is now!

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HVCRE Gets a Reboot

HVCRE Gets a Reboot

September 27, 2017

Authored by: Jerry Blanchard

As we mentioned just a couple of weeks ago, the federal banking regulators have taken aim at the risk weighting rules for High Volatility Commercial Real Estate (“HVCRE”) loans that went into effect back in 2015. In a proposal published on September 27, 2017, the regulators seek to simplify the approach in several ways. First, the existing HVCRE definition in the standardized approach would be replaced with a simpler definition, called HVADC, which would apply to credit facilities that primarily finance or refinance ADC activities. Second, an HVADC exposure would receive a 130 percent risk weight.as opposed to the 150% risk weight for HVCRE exposure under the existing rule. The tradeoff though is that HVADC would apply to a much broader set of loans. For example, as compared to the HVCRE exposure definition, the proposed HVADC exposure definition would not include an exemption for loans that finance projects with substantial borrower contributed capital and consequently removes the restriction on the release of internally generated capital.

The definition of “primarily finance” means credit facilities where more than 50 percent of loan proceeds will be used for ADC activities. So for example, multipurpose facilities where more than 50 percent of loan proceeds finance non-ADC activities, such as the purchase of equipment, would not be considered HVADC.

As with the HVCRE rule, there are certain exemptions. HVADC would exempt permanent loans, community development loans, loans for the purchase or development of agricultural land and loans for one to four family residential.  Thus, lot development loans and loans to finance the ADC of townhomes or row homes would not be considered HVADC but raw land loans and loans to finance the ADC of apartments and condominiums generally would be considered HVADC.

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FRB Lifts Threshold for Financial Stability Review

In its March 2017 approval of People United Financial, Inc.’s merger with Suffolk Bancorp (the “Peoples United Order”), the Federal Reserve Board eased the approval criteria for certain smaller bank merger transactions by expanding its presumption regarding proposals that do not raise material financial stability concerns and providing for approval under delegated authority for such proposals.  The Dodd-Frank Act amended Section 3 of the Bank Holding Company Act to require the Federal Reserve to consider the “extent to which a proposed acquisition, merger, or consolidation would result in greater or more concentrated risks to the stability of the United States banking or financial system.”

In a 2012 approval order, the Federal Reserve established a presumption that a proposal that involves an acquisition of less than $2 billion in assets, that results in a firm with less than $25 billion in total assets, or that represents a corporate reorganization, may be presumed not to raise material financial stability concerns absent evidence that the transaction would result in a significant increase in interconnectedness, complexity, cross-border activities, or other risks factors.  In the Peoples United Order, the Federal Reserve indicated that since establishing this presumption in 2012, its experience has been that proposals involving an acquisition of less than $10 billion in assets, or that results in a firm with less than $100 billion in total assets, generally do not create institutions that pose systemic risks and typically have not involved, or resulted in, firms with activities, structures and operations that are complex or opaque.

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Dodd-Frank Act Reforms

Dodd-Frank Act Reforms

March 23, 2017

Authored by: Robert Klingler

Much of the discussion we’re having with our clients and other professionals relates to the prospects for financial regulatory reform.  To that end, and looking at it from the political rather than industry perspective, Bryan Cave’s Public Policy and Government Affairs Team has put together a brief client alert examining the political, legislative and regulatory issues currently under consideration.

In his first weeks in office, President Trump has taken steps to undo or alter major components of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). These include delaying implementation of the “Fiduciary Rule,” which regulates the relationship between investors and their financial advisors, directing the Treasury Secretary to review the Dodd-Frank Act in its entirety, and signing a resolution passed by Congress that repeals a Dodd-Frank regulation on disclosures of overseas activity by energy companies.

Read the rest of this alert on Bryan Cave’s homepage.

We’ve also posted about the impact of the proposed regulatory off-ramp on community banks, recorded a podcast episode on the Financial Choice Act, and discussed some of the causes, including hopes for regulatory relief, of the rise in bank stock prices in our podcast episode on the issues associated with elevated stock prices in bank mergers and acquisitions.

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Trump May Not be the Only Catalyst for Administrative Reform

In the past few months, there has been a lot of speculation regarding the future of many administrative agencies under Trump’s administration. However, two current cases pending in the D.C. Circuit have the potential to have a dramatic impact on administrative agencies and past and present regulatory enforcement actions by such agencies.

In Lucia v. SEC, the SEC brought claims against Lucia for misleading advertising in violation of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The enforcement action was initially resolved by an administrative law judge (ALJ); however Luica was later granted a petition for review based on an argument that the administrative hearing was unconstitutional because the ALJ was unconstitutionally appointed. The issue made it up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit who recently held that the ALJ was constitutionally appointed because the judge was an “employee”, not an officer. However, other courts have held just the opposite. In December, the 10th Circuit held in Bandimere v. SEC that ALJs were “inferior officers” and thus must be appointed pursuant to the Appointments Clause. A rehearing en banc has been granted in Lucia to address this issue.

On the heels of Lucia, in PHH v. CFPB, the CFPB brought claims against PHH for violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. Similarly, this enforcement proceeding was originally decided by an ALJ. However, PHH appealed the ALJ decision for a multitude of reasons and the appeal has also made it up to the D.C. Circuit where a rehearing en banc was granted last month. In the court’s order granting a rehearing en banc, the court ordered, among other things, that the parties address what the appropriate holding would be in PHH if the court holds in Lucia that the ALJ was unconstitutional.

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Impact of Proposed “Regulatory Off-Ramp” for Community Banks

A key component of the proposed roadmap for Republican efforts to provide regulatory relief is based on reduced regulatory burdens in exchange for holding higher capital levels.  Specifically, Title I of the proposed Financial Choice Act, as modified by Representative Hensarling’s “Choice Act 2.0 Changes” memo of February 7, 2017, proposes to provide significant regulatory relief for institutions that maintain an average leverage ratio of at least 10 percent.

The principal concepts of this “regulatory off-ramp” have, so far, remained relatively constant since first published by the House Financial Services Committee in June of 2016; any institution that elects to maintain elevated capital ratios (set at a 10% leverage ratio) would enjoy exemptions from the need to comply with certain other bank regulatory requirements.

Choice 2.0

In February 2017, Jeb Hensarling, Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, indicated that the “regulatory off-ramp” included in the proposed 2017 legislation would differ in two critical aspects from the 2016 proposed legislation.

First, the regulatory off-ramp would be based solely on the banking organization’s leverage ratio and would not consider the organization’s composite CAMELS rating.  Originally, the legislation limited eligible institutions to those that possessed a composite two CAMELS rating.  This change eliminates a subjective element to the regulatory off-ramp, but may also highlight that banking regulators would retain a wide array of tools to address institutions with substandard CAMELS ratings, regardless of their capital levels.

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