In Silicon Valley Bank Fail, the Fed's 'Mea Culpa' (Sort Of)

US central banking system blames lax oversight, weakened regulations for bank's collapse
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 28, 2023 2:25 PM CDT
Fed on Failed Silicon Valley Bank: We Messed Up, Too
The seal of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve is displayed at the Marriner S. Eccles Building in Washington on Feb. 5, 2018.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

The Federal Reserve blamed last month's collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on poor management, watered-down regulations, and lax oversight by its own staffers, adding that the industry needs stricter policing on multiple fronts to prevent future bank failures. The Fed was highly critical of its own role in the bank's failure in a report released Friday. The report, compiled by Michael Barr, the Fed's chief regulator, says bank supervisors were slow to recognize blossoming problems at Silicon Valley Bank as it quickly grew in size in the years leading up to its collapse, per the AP. The report also points out underlying cultural issues at the Fed, where supervisors were unwilling to be hard on bank management when they saw growing problems.

Those cultural issues stemmed from legislation passed in 2018 that sought to lighten regulations for banks with less than $250 billion in assets, the report noted. The Fed also weakened its own rules the following year, which exempted banks below that threshold from stress tests and other regulations. Both Silicon Valley Bank and New York-based Signature Bank, which also failed last month, had assets below that level. The changes increased the burden on regulators to justify the need for supervisory action, the report said, noting that "in some cases, the changes also led to slower action by supervisory staff and a reluctance to escalate issues."

Separate reports also released Friday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, also faulted the Fed and other regulators for a lack of urgency regarding Silicon Valley's deficiencies. About 95% of its deposits exceeded the FDIC's insurance cap, and its deposits were caught up in the tech industry, making the bank vulnerable to a panic. But the FDIC also found its own regulatory deficiencies, notably insufficient staffing to adequately supervise Signature Bank. The agency also took a light-handed approach to regulation, the report found. "The FDIC could have been more forward-looking and forceful in its supervision," the FDIC said in its report.

(More Silicon Valley Bank stories.)

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