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On October 8, the Federal Reserve Board announced that all five federal financial regulators have signed off on final revisions to the Volker Rule (the 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 other four regulators approved the revisions last month. The revisions, which take full effect on January 1, 2021, clarify prohibited activities and simplify 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 Fed noted that community banks are generally exempt from the Rule by statute, and stressed that the “revisions continue to prohibit proprietary trading, while providing greater clarity and certainty for activities allowed under the law,” and that the regulators “expect that the universe of trades that are considered prohibited proprietary trading will remain generally the same as under the agencies’ 2013 rule.” However, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard issued a dissenting statement, stressing that the revised Rule “weakens the core protections against speculative trading within the banking federal safety net,” and that the elimination without replacement of the “‘short-term intent’ test for firms engaged in higher levels of trading activities… materially narrows the scope of covered activities.” Brainard also expressed concern about “examiners’ ability to assess compliance with the final rule because it relies on firms’ internal self-policing to set limits to distinguish permissible market making from illegal proprietary trading, no longer requires firms to promptly report limit breaches and increases, and narrows the scope of the CEO attestation requirement.”
On September 18, the SEC announced the approval of final revisions to the Volker Rule (the 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 final revisions were approved by the OCC and FDIC at the end of August, and the Federal Reserve Board is expected to adopt the changes in the near future. In approving the revisions, Chairman Jay Clayton stated that the SEC collaborated with the other federal regulatory agencies to ensure the changes would “effectively implement statutory mandates without imposing undue burdens on participants in our markets, including imposing unnecessary costs or reducing access to capital and liquidity.” Chairman Clayton emphasized that the revisions draw on the agencies’ “collective experience in implementing the rule and overseeing compliance in our complex marketplace over a number of years.”
Earlier, on September 16, the CFTC announced a 3-2 vote to approve the final revisions. Commissioner Tarbert stated that the final revisions would provide banking entities and their affiliates with “greater clarity and certainty about what activities are permitted under” the Rule as well as reduce compliance burdens. In voting against the approval, Commissioner Behnam issued a dissenting statement expressing, among other things, concerns about “narrowing the scope of financial instruments subject to the  Rule,” which would limit the Rule’s scope “so significantly that it no longer will provide meaningful constraints on speculative proprietary trading by banks.” Commissioner Berkovitz also dissented, arguing that the revisions “will render enforcement of the [R]ule difficult if not impossible by leaving implementation of significant requirements to the discretion of the banking entities, creating presumptions of compliance that would be nearly impossible to overcome, and eliminating numerous reporting requirements.” Commissioner Berkovitz also criticized the rulemaking process that led to the final revisions, arguing that a number of the changes were not adequately discussed in the notice of proposed rulemaking process, including amendments to the “accounting prong” and the rebuttable presumption of proprietary trading.
On August 20, the OCC and the FDIC approved 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. (See the OCC press release here.) The Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, and SEC are expected to adopt the final rule as well. 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.”
Once approved by the Federal Reserve, SEC, and CFTC, 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.
On April 23, the Federal Reserve Board issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and request for comment to simplify and increase transparency of existing rules for determining if a company has control over a banking organization under the Bank Holding Company Act and the Home Owners’ Loan Act. Among other things, the NPRM will “provide a series of presumptions of control for use by the Board in control proceedings and other control determinations,” and will create a tiered structure premised on the level of voting ownership—5 percent, 10 percent, and 15 percent—of one company in another company. The Board noted it will also consider several additional factors, such as (i) the size of a company’s voting and total equity investment; (ii) rights to director and committee representation; (iii) use of proxy solicitations; (iv) individuals serving as management, employees, and directors at both companies; (v) agreements permitting influence or restrictions on management or operational decisions; and (vi) the scope of business relationships between the companies. The NPRM also contains a new proposed presumption of “noncontrol,” which will apply in instances where a company owns less than 10 percent of the voting securities of a second company and does not trigger any of the presumptions of control. According to a statement issued by Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles, the NPRM is designed to address concerns that “it has been difficult for banking firms and investors in banking firms to determine whether a particular proposed investment could give rise to control.” Comments on the NPRM are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On December 18, the FDIC, the Federal Reserve Board, the OCC, the SEC, and the CFTC (collectively, the Agencies) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend regulations implementing Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act (known as, the “Volcker Rule”) to be consistent with Sections 203 and 204 of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (the Act). (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) Consistent with Section 203 of the Act, the proposal would exempt community banks from the restrictions of the Volcker Rule if they, and every entity that controls them, have (i) total consolidated assets equal to or less than $10 billion; and (ii) total trading assets and liabilities that are equal to or less than five percent of their total consolidated assets.
The proposal also, consistent with Section 204 of the Act, would permit a hedge fund or private equity fund organized and offered by a banking entity to share a name with a banking entity that is its investment advisor, if (i) the advisor is not an insured depository institution, does not control a depository institution, and is not treated as a bank holding company under the International Banking Act; (ii) the advisor does not share a name with any such entities; and (iii) the shared name does not include "bank."
Comments will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On September 4, the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, SEC, and CFTC (the Agencies) announced a 30-day extension to the public comment period for the Agencies’ joint revisions to the Volcker Rule. The comment period, which was previously scheduled to end on September 17, is now extended until October 17. The joint release notes that the extension will give interested parties “approximately four and a half months from the date the proposal was released to the public to submit comments,” as the Agencies’ first released the text of the proposal on May 30 (it was not published in the Federal Register until July 17). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Agencies’ joint revisions are designed to simplify and tailor obligations for compliance with Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act, known as the Volcker Rule, which restricts a bank’s ability to engage in proprietary trading and own certain funds. Specifically, according to a Federal Reserve Board memo, the proposed amendments will better align Volcker rule requirements with a bank’s level of trading activity and risks.
Buckley Sandler Special Alert: OCC announces it will accept fintech charter applications, following the release of Treasury report on nonbank financial institutions
On July 31, the OCC announced that nondepository financial technology firms engaged in one or more core banking functions may apply for a special purpose national bank (SPNB) charter. The announcement follows a report released the same day by the Treasury Department, which discusses a number of recommendations for creating a streamlined environment for regulating financial technology, and includes an endorsement of the OCC’s SPNB charter for fintech firms (fintech charter).
If you have questions about the report or other related issues, please visit our Fintech practice page, or contact a Buckley Sandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On July 17, the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, SEC, and CFTC (the Agencies) published their joint notice of proposed rulemaking designed 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 (the Volcker rule). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the Agencies’ announced the proposal on May 30, noting that the amendments would 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. Comments on the proposal are due by September 17.
FDIC FIL addendum: Federal banking agencies will not enforce Volcker rule for financial institutions exempt under S.2155
On June 4, the FDIC issued FIL-31-2018, which contains an addendum describing legislative changes to Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act (Volcker rule) under the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S.2155/P.L. 115-174) that are applicable to FDIC-insured depository institutions with total assets under $10 billion. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on S.2155 here.) Effective immediately, any financial institution that “‘does not have and is not controlled by a company that has (i) more than $10,000,000,000 in total consolidated assets; and (ii) total trading assets and trading liabilities as reported on the most recent applicable regulatory filing filed by the institution, that are more than 5 percent of total consolidated assets’” is exempt from the rule. As result, the federal banking agencies will no longer enforce the Volcker rule for qualifying financial institutions in a manner inconsistent with the statutory amendments to the Volcker rule, and announced plans “to address these statutory amendments outside of the current notice of proposed rulemaking.”
The federal banking agencies responsible for developing the proposal (the Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, OCC, and SEC) also formally announced on June 5 a joint notice and request for public comment on the proposed revisions. Comments will be accepted for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.
Visit here for InfoBytes coverage on the federal banking agencies’ proposed revisions to the Volcker rule announced May 30.
On May 30, the Federal Reserve Board (Board) announced proposed revisions designed 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 (the Volcker rule). The proposal, subject to public comment for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, was developed in coordination with the OCC, FDIC, SEC, and CFTC, and would modify regulations finalized in December 2013 to reduce compliance costs for banks. Two information collections were issued along with the proposal: Information Schedules and Quantitative Measurements Daily Schedule.
According to a Board memo, the proposed amendments would tailor Volcker rule requirements to better align with a bank’s level of trading activity and risks. The proposal would establish the following three categories based on trading activity: (i) “significant trading assets and liabilities,” which would consist of banks with gross trading assets and liabilities of at least $10 billion, and require a comprehensive compliance program tailored to reflect the Volcker rule’s requirements; (ii) “moderate trading assets and liabilities,” which would include banks with gross trading assets and liabilities of at least $1 billion but less than $10 billion, and impose reduced compliance obligations; and (iii) “limited trading assets and liabilities,” which would include banks with less than $1 billion in gross trading assets and liabilities, and subject them to the lowest level of regulatory compliance.
In addition, the proposal would, among other changes:
- provide more clarity by revising the definition of “trading account” to be an account used to buy or sell financial instruments recorded at fair value under commonly used accounting definitions;
- clarify that banks whose trades do not exceed appropriately developed internal risk limits are engaged in permissible market-making-related activity;
- streamline the criteria that applies when a bank relies on the hedging exemption from the proprietary trading prohibition, and remove a requirement that a trade “demonstrably reduces or otherwise significantly mitigates” a specific risk;
- ease the documentation requirement banks face when demonstrating trades are hedges, and eliminate requirements that a bank with only moderate or limited trading activity must develop “a separate internal compliance program for risk-mitigation hedging”;
- eliminate the 60-day rebuttable presumption for trades;
- expand the scope of the “liquidity management exclusion” in the Volcker rule to allow banks to use foreign exchange forwards, foreign exchange swaps, and physically settled cross-currency swaps as a part of liquidity management activities;
- limit the impact of the Volcker rule on foreign banks’ activity outside of the U.S.; and
- simplify the type of trading activity information that banks will be required to provide to the agencies.
Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell noted that after nearly five years of experience applying the Volcker rule, the proposed rule is a way to “allow firms to conduct appropriate activities without undue burden, and without sacrificing safety and soundness.”
Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard also commented that “[r]ather than requiring banking institutions to undertake specific quantitative analyses prescribed by the regulators, the proposed revisions would require banking institutions to establish internal risk limits to achieve the principle of not exceeding the reasonably expected near-term demands of customers, subject to supervisory review.”
Federal Reserve Board Vice Chair of Supervision Randal Quarles stated that while the regulatory relief bill signed into law on May 24 exempts banks with less than $10 billion in total assets from the Volcker rule (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), the “proposed rule, however, would recognize that small asset size is not the only indicator of reduced proprietary trading risk.” Furthermore, the proposed rule is a “best first effort at simplifying and tailoring the Volcker rule” and does not represent the “completion of [the Board’s] work.”
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