Joe Biden is calling on Congress to make it easier for regulators to punish executives at failed banks, including by recouping gains from share sales and banning disgraced bosses from working in the industry.
The US president said he was “firmly committed to accountability for those responsible for this mess”, in a statement released on Friday, just one week after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, a California-based lender.
“No one is above the law — and strengthening accountability is an important deterrent to prevent mismanagement in the future,” he added.
The White House has asked Congress to expand the powers of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a US banking regulator, to claw back compensation, including gains from share sales by executives at failed regional banks such as SVB and Signature Bank, a New York-based lender that collapsed at the weekend. Current law only allows the FDIC to recoup earnings from executives at bigger banks. Greg Becker, SVB’s former chief executive, sold $3.6mn worth of the bank’s stock on February 27 under a previously agreed trading plan, less than two weeks before SVB failed.
The administration also wants to expand the FDIC’s authority to ban bosses of failed banks from holding jobs at other lenders. At present, the FDIC is only allowed to bar disgraced executives from holding similar jobs if they engage in “wilful or continuing disregard for the safety and soundness” of their bank. But the White House said Congress should “lower the legal standard” to apply to all lenders that fall into receivership.
“The president believes that if you’re responsible for the failure of one bank, you shouldn’t be able to just turn around and lead another,” the White House said in a memo.
The administration has also said Congress should make it easier for the FDIC to levy fines against executives from failed banks.
Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senator from Ohio who chairs the powerful Senate banking committee, welcomed Biden’s statement, saying: “We need stronger rules to rein in risky behaviour and catch incompetence.”
Lawmakers have been at odds over how to respond to the collapse of SVB and Signature. Progressive Democrats have called to reverse a 2018 bill, signed into law by then-president Donald Trump, that diluted the 2010 Dodd-Frank reform of financial regulation. But several senior Democrats have been wary of signing on, while most Republicans have rejected the idea of new regulations.
At the same time, many Republicans have blamed Biden and the Democrats for the latest banking failures, trying to tie the administration’s fiscal policies to the rising interest rates that have been blamed for the banks’ insolvency.
There are some signs that lawmakers from both parties might be able to find agreement on punishing the executives of failed banks. Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, has introduced legislation that would allow regulators to recoup bonuses and profits from share sales made within 60 days of a bank failing.
Republican senators Josh Hawley and Mike Braun have also introduced a bill that would let the FDIC recoup bonuses paid to executives of failed banks.
“This is an excellent first step and all of this should have been done a long time ago,” Dennis Kelleher of the consumer group Better Markets said of Biden’s statement. “Any thing that punishes executives for reckless conduct and misconduct is welcome.”
The failure to recover money “is like taking away the getaway car of a bank robber but not the money he took”, Kelleher added.