3 questions directors should bring to their next board meeting after SVB’s failure

People wait outside the Silicon Valley Bank headquarters in Santa Clara, CA, to withdraw funds after the federal government intervened upon the bank collapse, on March 13, 2023.
Boards must rethink their assumptions about "safe" financial decisions.
Getty Images—Anadolu Agency/Nikolas Liepins

Will the white-knuckle experience of surviving Silicon Valley Bank’s meltdown change how companies—especially young private companies—behave? What will they do differently? 

That question surfaced in a recent National Association of Corporate Directors webinar on the issues facing boards following the bank’s collapse. 

In the hour-long discussion, participants touched on the need to develop and rethink cash management policies, hold comprehensive directors and officers insurance, outsource financial risk management when a company doesn’t have the right in-house talent, and question all assumptions about financial safety. But panelist Gary Zimmerman, managing partner of Six Trees Capital, also pointed out that just days after SVB and Signature Bank shut down, many companies were already making the mistake of counting on a single vendor for their finances by embracing sweep accounts. 

In such an account, a custodian bank can automatically move a client’s money to a different institution once a deposit exceeds a preset limit, such as $250,000, the maximum amount the FDIC guarantees. Using that strategy so that more of your capital is insured sounds smart, but “if that custodial bank goes under, you lose access to all of your money until the resolution process is completed,” Zimmerman explained, and few people seem to realize that. 

The broad takeaway from SVB’s demise is not just about cash or bank deposits, he said, but educating yourself about every agreement you sign. Don’t mindlessly listen to your VC or a board member, he would tell founders. It’s about “reading the fine print, understanding where there’s risk and where there isn’t, and not just taking at face value what your friends said, or what your colleagues said, or what the latest advertisement said. You really need to think critically and dig in.”

See below for a list of questions board members should take to their next meeting, as suggested by Zimmerman and others. You can watch the full webinar here; it’s free, but registration is required.

Lila MacLellan

3 Questions for Your Next Board Meeting

- "Do an exercise: Who are your sole suppliers just on your finance side? Is it your bank, your law firm, your insurance company? What if that company went away tomorrow? What would you do?” —Christine Gorjanc, former CFO at Arlo Technologies, and a board director at Juniper Networks 

- “Do you have a crisis management response playbook? I think it was in vogue maybe 10 years ago to do that, and I think those have gotten very dusty, and that people who put them together are gone.” —Louis Lehot, corporate and securities attorney Foley and Lardner

- “Do we have the right expertise on the board? Do we have a financial expert on the board? A lot of private companies have very small boards that tend to be pretty insular. Diversifying those boards, bringing in some independent directors, doesn't assure success, but it certainly could improve it.”  —Gary Zimmerman, managing partner of Six Trees Capital

On the Agenda

👓 Read: How companies are recession-proofing their workforce, retraining and upskilling employees, and getting work done with fewer people—it’s all in the latest Fortune @ Work playbook.

🎧 Listen: The new podcast Fear and Wonder brings listeners inside the fascinating and terrifying science that informs the UN’s influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. It’s hosted by one of the lead authors. 

📖 Bookmark: In this month's "Index," Harper’s Magazine pulls together (and juxtaposes) remarkable statistics about remote work, the career preferences of today’s college grads, and the economy. 


Rebecca Yeung, who leads operations science at FedEx, joined the Royal Caribbean board. Paramount Global tapped Dawn Ostroff, a former Spotify and Condé Nast executive, as an independent director; two sitting board members are stepping down. Stephen Bowman, former CFO at Northern Trust, and Hikmet Ersek, former CEO of Western Union, joined Voya Financial as directors. Shripriya Mahesh, cofounder and general partner of Spero Ventures, was appointed to the eBay board. California BanCorp appointed Theodore Wilm, an experienced CPA who spent 38 years at PwC, to its board. After serving as a director for 30 years, David Jones Jr. is leaving the Humana board.

In Brief

- If Fox News loses the multibillion-dollar lawsuits it’s facing over its 2020 election coverage, board members of its parent company could also face legal action, writes Bloomberg Law. And plaintiffs would have a strong case.

- It’s impossible to know whether the right messaging strategy would have prevented a run on Silicon Valley Bank. In any case, the bank’s failure offers six lessons in crisis communications.

- Bill Gates says now is the time to steer the new “age of A.I.” toward minimizing inequity instead of exacerbating it.

- Companies may soon have a clearer understanding of trademark violations when the Supreme Court rules in a surprisingly complicated case about the Bad Spaniels Silly Squeaker, a dog toy that looks like a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Editor’s Pick 

Companies that think they manage customer or employee data responsibly will want to check out this New York Times interview with Colin Koopman, chair of the philosophy department at the University of Oregon. 

The professor traces the current focus on “algorithmic fairness” to think tanks sponsored by the very tech firms that are gobbling up peoples’ data with little oversight. The problem is that algorithm fairness is just part of the data-sharing picture, says Koopman, and not enough people are engaging with the larger issues that massive new data funnels have created. Here’s a snippet in which he explains his argument that we have become our data:

“I like to take a historical perspective on this. If you wind the clock back a couple hundred years or go to certain communities, the pushback wouldn’t be, ‘I’m my body,’ the pushback would be, ‘I’m my soul.’ We have these evolving perceptions of our self. I don’t want to deny anybody that, yeah, you are your soul. My claim is that your data has become something that is increasingly inescapable and certainly inescapable in the sense of being obligatory for your average person living out their life. There’s so much of our lives that are woven through or made possible by various data points that we accumulate around ourselves—and that’s interesting and concerning.” 

Read the full piece here, and have a great weekend.

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