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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FDIC, OCC approve final rule revising Volcker Rule

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FDIC Federal Reserve OCC CFTC SEC Bank Holding Company Act Volcker Rule Of Interest to Non-US Persons

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

On November 14, the OCC, FDIC, Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, and SEC published a final rule, which will amend the Volcker Rule to simplify and tailor compliance with Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act’s restrictions on a bank’s ability to engage in proprietary trading and own certain funds. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the five financial regulators released a joint notice of proposed rulemaking in July 2018 designed to reduce compliance costs for banks and tailor Volcker Rule requirements to better align with a bank’s size and level of trading activity and risks. The final rule clarifies prohibited activities and simplifies compliance burdens by tailoring compliance obligations to reflect the size and scope of a bank’s trading activities, with more stringent requirements imposed on entities with greater activity. The final rule also addresses the activities of foreign banking entities outside of the United States.

Specifically, the final rule focuses on the following areas:

  • Compliance program requirements and thresholds. The final rule includes a three-tiered approach to compliance program requirements, based on the level of a banking entity’s trading assets and liabilities. Banks with total consolidated trading assets and liabilities of at least $20 billion will be considered to have “significant” trading activities and will be subject to a six-pillar compliance program. Banks with “moderate” trading activities (total consolidated trading assets and liabilities between $1 billion and $20 billion) will be subject to a simplified compliance program. Finally, banks with “limited” trading activities (less than $1 billion in total consolidated trading assets and liabilities) will be subject to a rebuttable presumption of compliance with the final rule.
  • Proprietary trading. Among other changes, the final rule (i) retains a modified version of the short-term intent prong; (ii) eliminates the agencies’ rebuttable presumption that financial instruments held for fewer than 60 days are within the short-term intent prong of the trading account; and (iii) adds a rebuttable presumption that financial instruments held for 60 days or longer are not within the short-term intent prong of the trading account. Additionally, banks subject to the market risk capital prong will be exempt from the short-term intent prong.
  • Proprietary trading exclusions. The final rule modifies the liquidity management exclusion to allow banks to use a broader range of financial instruments to manage liquidity. In addition, exclusions have been added for error trades, certain customer-driven swaps, hedges of mortgage servicing rights, and certain purchases or sales of instruments that do not meet the definition of “trading assets and liabilities.”
  • Proprietary trading exemptions. The final rule includes changes from the proposed rule related to the exemptions for underwriting and market making-related activities, risk-mitigating hedging, and trading by foreign entities outside the U.S.
  • Covered funds. Among other things, the final rule incorporates proposed changes to the covered funds provision concerning permitted underwriting and market making and risk-mitigating hedging with respect to such funds, as well as investments in and sponsorships of covered funds by foreign banking entities located solely outside the U.S.
  • Application to foreign banks. The final rule aligns the methodologies for calculating the “limited” and “significant” compliance thresholds for foreign banking organizations by basing both thresholds on the trading assets and liabilities of the firm’s U.S. operations. The final rule includes changes to the exemptions from the prohibitions for underwriting and market making-related activities, risk mitigating hedging, and trading by foreign banking entities solely outside the U.S. Additionally, the final rule also includes changes to the covered funds provisions, including with respect to permitted underwriting and market making and risk-mitigating hedging with respect to a covered fund, as well as investment in or sponsorship of covered funds by foreign banking entities solely outside the U.S. and the exemption for prime brokerage transactions.

FDIC board member Martin J. Gruenberg voted against the rule, stating the “final rule before the FDIC Board today would effectively undo the Volcker Rule prohibition on proprietary trading by severely narrowing the scope of financial instruments subject to the Volcker Rule. It would thereby allow the largest, most systemically important banks and bank holding companies to engage in speculative proprietary trading funded with FDIC-insured deposits.” Gruenberg emphasized that the final rule “includes within the definition of trading account only one of these categories of fair valued financial instruments—those reported on the bank’s balance sheet as trading assets and liabilities. This significantly narrows the scope of financial instruments subject to the Volcker Rule.”

The final rule will take effect January 1, 2020, with banks having until January 1, 2021, to comply. Prior to the compliance date, the 2013 rule will remain in effect. Alternatively, banking entities may elect to voluntarily comply, in whole or in part, with the final rule’s amendments prior to January 1, 2021, provided the agencies have implemented necessary technological changes.

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