Currently, banks can be chartered as national banks, state banks, federal savings banks or state savings associations. Each type of charter involves a different set of regulators. For example, national banks are regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency or OCC. Federal savings banks, however, are regulated by the Office of Thrift Supervision or OTS. State banks can be jointly regulated by the state and either the FDIC or the Federal Reserve Board (FRB). State-chartered thrift holding companies and state savings associations, however, are regulated by the state and OTS. The bank’s organization group selects the type of charter and chartering group within its bank application during the formation process.
Competing agencies create gaps and leniencies
Critics of the current system argue that this regulator mélange lacks comprehensive, systemic oversight and creates regulatory gaps that have been exploited by financial companies.
Also at issue is whether the current system sufficiently motivates regulators to provide careful oversight. New banks represent new funding for regulators; since bank organizers tend to gravitate towards the regulator of least resistance, regulators actually benefit on some level from offering greater leniency.
A systemic regulator would eliminate this competition for leniency. The agency would be tasked with identifying and addressing regulatory gaps in areas such as mortgage banking, hedge funds, credit default swaps and other specialty financial products. As well, the entity would be responsible for recognizing risks and problems within financial companies that are heavily entrenched in the industry—to properly manage or even avoid failures of Lehman’s magnitude.
ABA warns of ending dual-bank system
A single-agency system would require the unification of oversight functions currently managed by the OCC, OTS, FDIC and FRB. In a letter written to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, ABA President and CEO Edward Yingling expressed the banking industry’s opposition to this concept. According to Yingling, such a system would favor federal banks over state banks, and eventually lead to the end of the dual banking system. The dual banking system, says Yingling, isn’t the enemy; it creates competition and stimulates innovation in financial products and evolution of regulatory systems.
Yingling also argues that the proposed model is based on the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority, which was not able to avert that country’s financial crisis.
The single regulator concept is still just a subject of debate on Capitol Hill. Senator Christopher J. Dodd and Representative Barney Frank have both spoken out against the idea. Press reports indicate that the administration will publicize a proposal later this month.