Venture capitalists brought down Silicon Valley Bank. Now its new CEO wants them to save it

March 15, 2023, 10:54 AM UTC
Tim Mayopoulos, who ran Fannie Mae for years after the 2008 financial crisis, was named CEO of Silicon Valley Bank's bridge bank earlier this week.
Sean Zanni—Getty Images

It’s a tall order that Tim Mayopoulos, the recent fintech startup president and newly-appointed Silicon Valley Bank CEO, is asking of venture capitalists and founders: Come back.

Come back after the run on the bank, after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation set up a new bridge bank entity, after the CEO and CFO have been fired, and as the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice are reportedly investigating the collapse.

Then again, it’s also venture capitalists who played a key role in the bank’s demise—as they urged founders to withdraw more than $42 billion in a 24-hour period last week. If SVB, or some version of it, is to survive, it will take a major bank, a private equity buyout, or perhaps the very customers who helped shut it down.

Mayopoulos, formerly the CEO of Fannie Mae for over six years post-financial crisis, made his case by relaying that SVB is open for business and offering some sense of normalcy. Over a series of separate calls on Tuesday, Mayopoulos assured venture capitalists and founders that the FDIC is guaranteeing deposits, that they’re open to new customers, and that there is no risk to clients losing capital, according to two people who sat in and one who was briefed on the calls. 

“I was rather surprised—because I thought the bank was officially being wound down, but that is not the case,” says Jesse Randall, founder of fintech venture operation Sweater Ventures, which banked approximately two-thirds of their assets at SVB. 

Silicon Valley Bank has said it is “open for business,” and is guaranteeing that all deposits, at any figure, will be fully protected by the FDIC. The FDIC confirmed with Fortune that all of the services previously available at the bank before its failure are available this week, including underwriting new loans.

In an effort to show some sense of transparency, Mayopoulos laid out four potential outcomes on calls with customers, according to Randall and two other sources: 

1. Silicon Valley Bank spins back up and continues operating as a new nationally chartered bank
2. A bank comes in and acquires SVB, bringing it under its own operations
3. Nonbank investors could come in and acquire SVB
4. Or, that last and least appealing option, the FDIC officially winds down the whole operation

Meanwhile, CEO Greg Becker and CFO Daniel Beck are out of the picture, though the rest of the management team is still in place. It’s unclear how long it will operate as a bridge bank.

As banks, private equity firms, and reportedly VCs, pour over various parts of the SVB business, the big question, for now, seems to be whether venture investors and founders will return as customers. 

Some clients have explicitly said they’re returning. General Catalyst CEO Hemant Taneja posted a statement on Tuesday afternoon that said that his firm, as well as the likes of Bessemer Venture Partners, Greylock, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and others, were recommending that their portfolio companies keep or return 50% of their assets to the bank and that they believed “SVB is now one of the safest and most secure banks in the country.” 

Silicon Valley Bank has established plenty of loyalty over its 40 years of servicing the startup industry. And it’s known to be one of the only banks prepared to extend loans to some of the riskier early-stage startups in the market.

“There’s deep loyalty and a lot of sadness and regret, I think across the industry, especially for those who have been around for a long time,” Randall says.

And Mayopoulos was persuasive to at least some VCs on the calls: “It was upbeat. It was a good vibe, very in contrast to the previous CEO,” Sheel Mohnot, cofounder and general partner at seed stage VC firm Better Tomorrow Ventures, said of the Zoom call. “You just wish this guy was there five days ago,” he said, referring to Mayopoulos. Mohnot has been advising his portfolio companies to keep some money at SVB. “I do think it makes sense to do what we can to help SVB out.” 

But loyalty, while important, only goes so far when it comes to running a business. And there appear to still be some major questions over what exactly happened, and who is responsible. The SEC and the Department of Justice are reportedly looking into what happened. Whether or not the collapse could have been better managed—or avoided entirely—the sheer chaos and panic of last week will put a sour taste in the mouths of many.

Especially given that Silicon Valley Bank’s balance sheet troubles riding into 2023 stemmed from its own investment decisions. It was the long-term bonds the bank purchased during the venture boom, at the peak of the market, that rapidly lost their value as interest rates began to climb. That, paired with startups burning more cash as funding dried up in 2022, led to an enormous rise in interest expenses and a reduction in deposits. As Fortune has also reported, Silicon Valley Bank did not have an official chief risk officer in place for eight months of last year.

Silicon Valley Bank’s balance sheet was so alarming to one senior partner at Union Square Ventures that the firm warned all of its portfolio company founders back in November that they should diversify their banking partners, Business Insider reported yesterday evening.

Mayopoulos said on the call that the government didn’t find underlying risk problems behind what happened, Randall says, but rather “a specific set of circumstances that led to the run on the bank.”

Regardless, trust may be permanently broken between the bank and many of the customers it once served so closely. Many people have been outspoken in saying that regulators should not have swept in and helped depositors the way they did.

While Randall hasn’t decided what his firm will do, he says the bank has at least put forth a compelling argument. 

“I was very surprised,” he says. “I think with the robustness of what they’re presenting and the fervor in which they are trying to reestablish trust in order to pull Silicon Valley Bank into the future.”

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews and Anne Sraders
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