SVB and First Republic CEOs lobbied for weaker financial oversight in the run-up to their banks entering into crisis

March 17, 2023, 9:46 AM UTC
Updated March 20, 2023, 8:49 AM UTC
In late January, First Republic Bank’s CEO suggested to regulators that his bank did not pose significant risk to U.S. financial stability.
Jeenah Moon—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The heads of both Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic Bank tried to influence the U.S. government to take a softer regulatory approach to the financial sector in the months prior to last week’s crisis in the financial sector, as lawmakers ask whether recent regulatory easing made bank failures more likely.

On Jan. 23, First Republic CEO Mike Roffler sent a letter to both the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Company against a proposal requiring that smaller lenders follow rules similar to those applied to systemically important banks, reports The Information. (U.S. regulators have yet to implement the proposal.)

In his letter, Roffler wrote “such requirements should only be applied to large, interconnected financial institutions whose failure could pose systemic risk to the financial stability of the U.S.”

First Republic Bank did “not pose the same, if any, financial stability risk,” Roffler wrote.

Roffler’s view in January proved incorrect after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. Shares in First Republic Bank crashed on Monday, the first day of trading after the Federal Reserve stepped in to protect Silicon Valley Bank’s depositors in full. Then, on Wednesday, both S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings cut First Republic Bank to junk status, citing the risk of deposit outflows and a loss of liquidity.

On Thursday, 11 large banks, including JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Bank of America, agreed to deposit $30 billion into First Republic Bank. The banks pledged to keep the money there for at least 120 days, reports Bloomberg, either saving First Republic Bank or giving it time to pursue other options. 

First Republic Bank said the $30 billion cash infusion “reflects the ongoing quality of our business, and is a vote of confidence for First Republic and the entire U.S. banking system” in a statement

Shares in First Republic Bank fell 17% in aftermarket trading on Thursday. The bank’s shares are now down around 64% for the week.

First Republic Bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Silicon Valley Bank

Greg Becker, former CEO of the now-collapsed Silicon Valley Bank, was also involved in efforts to lobby the government on the writing of financial industry regulations. 

Becker was part of the leadership of two lobbying organizations representing the tech sector, serving as the chairman of TechNet until January 2023, and also sat on the executive board of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, reports CNBC.

TechNet is a national network of major tech CEOs, while the Silicon Valley Leadership Group focuses on policy in Silicon Valley.

According to CNBC, TechNet focused its attention on a particular section of the Dodd-Frank Act that would require financial institutions to make transaction data and other financial information available to consumers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is still in the process of writing those regulations.

 TechNet did not immediately responded to Fortune’s requests for comment. 

A TechNet spokesperson told CNBC that the group’s lobbying on Dodd-Frank was “a consumer data privacy issue related to the announced notice of proposed rulemaking at the CFPB on data privacy, one of the industry’s top policy issues.”

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group said that, in 2017, the organization joined “the broad coalition of main street businesses and innovation leaders that advocated for a simpler and fairer tax system as part of comprehensive tax reform to support economic growth and American jobs,” in a statement to Fortune. A spokesperson for the Group told Fortune that its 2017 delegation included executives from Silicon Valley Bank, alongside leaders from other member companies.

Becker had long called for less oversight of relatively smaller banks like Silicon Valley Bank. In 2015, Becker called on the U.S. to lift its threshold for considering a bank to be systemically important and thus subject to stricter capital requirements. Too-low thresholds “stifle our ability to provide credit to our clients,” he told Congress in 2015.

The U.S. lifted the threshold in 2018, from $50 billion to $250 billion. Silicon Valley Bank grew to have $209 billion in assets at the end of 2022, according to the FDIC.

Last Friday, the FDIC took over Silicon Valley Bank following a bank run, spurred by the company’s admission that it needed to raise capital, both by selling bonds at a loss and planning a share sale. On Sunday, the U.S. government announced it had taken over Signature Bank of New York, and would protect both its and SVB’s depositors in full. 

Some U.S. lawmakers are already blaming banking leaders for weakening financial regulation and thus spurring the current crisis. In a Monday opinion piece for the New York Times, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) argued that banking executives “spent millions trying to defeat it, and, when they lost, spent millions more trying to weaken it.”

“Had Congress and the Federal Reserve not rolled back the stricter oversight, SVB and Signature would have been subject to stronger liquidity and capital requirements to withstand financial shocks,” Warren wrote.

Update, March 20, 2023: This article has been updated with a comment from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

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