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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Germany’s Largest Bank Agrees to Fix Foreign Exchange Activities Controls and Volcker Rule Compliance Program, Fined Nearly $157 Million

Federal Issues Enforcement Bank Compliance Volcker Rule Sanctions Federal Reserve Foreign Exchange Trading

Federal Issues

On April 20, the Federal Reserve issued two separate enforcement actions against a major German global bank and its subsidiaries for allegedly failing to have appropriate controls to ensure that the bank’s foreign exchange activities (Covered FX Activities) were in compliance and also allegedly failing to have an adequate compliance program to ensure its traders abided by the Volcker Rule’s requirements. The combined sanctions total almost $157 million in civil money penalties.

Covered FX Activities. According to the Fed’s cease and desist order, the Board of Governors’ investigation, covering October 2008 through October 2013, found deficiencies in the bank’s governance, risk management, compliance, and audit policies and procedures. Specifically, FX traders communicated through chatrooms with traders at other financial institutions, but due to deficient policies and procedures, the bank failed to detect and address such “unsafe and unsound conduct.” Under the terms of the order, the bank is required to submit the following: (i) a written plan to improve senior management’s oversight of the bank’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and regulations and applicable internal policies in connection with its foreign exchange activities; (ii) an enhanced written internal control and compliance program designed to monitor and detect potential misconduct; and (iii) a written plan to improve its compliance risk management program with applicable U.S. laws and regulations with respect to foreign exchange activities. In addition, the bank must pay a $136.9 million civil money penalty.

Volcker Rule. That same day the Fed also issued a consent order to the bank for allegedly failing to establish a compliance program reasonably designed to ensure and monitor compliance with Volcker Rule requirements. The Volker Rule prohibits insured depository institutions and affiliates from engaging in proprietary trading and from acquiring or retaining ownership interests in, sponsoring, or having certain relationships with a hedge fund or private equity fund. The  consent order’s findings were based on a Volcker Rule CEO attestation, “which identified the existence of weaknesses in the [bank’s] Volcker Rule compliance program, including, among other things, certain governance, design, and operational deficiencies across key compliance pillars and the design of reporting mechanisms.” Moreover, the Board of Governors’ determination was based on, among other things, (i) “significant” gaps in the bank’s compliance program which resulted in deficiencies in the scope of independent testing efforts; (ii) “significant” weaknesses in the bank’s demonstrable analyses “showing that its proprietary trading is not to exceed the reasonably expected near term demands of clients, customers, or counterparties—[referred to as “RENT-D”]—required for permitted market-making activities,”; and (iii) weakness in the bank’s metrics reporting and monitoring process which, when combined with the aforementioned, “limited the [b]ank’s ability to adequately monitor trading activity.” Under the terms of the consent order, the bank is required to submit a written plan to improve senior management’s oversight of the firm’s compliance with Volcker Rule requirements. It must also submit enhanced written internal controls and compliance risk management program measures. These submissions are in addition to paying a $19.71 million civil money penalty.