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On February 5, the OCC announced that it conditionally approved a Washington state-chartered trust company’s application to convert to a national trust bank. According to the OCC, the trust company—which will provide cryptocurrency custody services for clients in a fiduciary capacity—“is currently in the organizational phase of development and will have up to 18 months to meet the terms of its conditional approval before it converts to a national trust bank and begins to operate.” By receiving a national trust bank charter, the trust company will be allowed to provide nationwide services to customers through offices in Seattle, Boston, and New York, and over the internet. The trust company also intends to expand its custody services to support additional types of digital assets beyond cryptocurrencies, including certain tokens and stable coins, and plans to eventually offer, among other things, client-to-client trading and lending platforms. The OCC notes that approval of the conversion is subject to several conditions, including that the trust company “not engage in activities that would cause it to be a ‘bank’ as defined in section 2(c) of the Bank Holding Company Act.”
On September 30, the Federal Reserve Board issued several frequently asked questions related to its control and divestiture proceedings final control rule that took effect the same day. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in January the Fed revised the bank control framework to clarify the rules used to determine whether a company controls a bank or a bank controls a company pursuant to the Bank Holding Company Act (BHC Act) and the Home Owners' Loan Act (HOLA). Among other things, the Fed notes that it “does not expect” to revisit investment structures that had previously been reviewed prior to the effective date of the control rule, and would not require changes to investment structures “that represent a reasonable interpretation of [Fed] precedent at the time the structure was created.” The FAQs also discuss what constitutes a “limiting contractual right” with respect to a contractual provision between “a first company and a second company that requires the second company to conform its activities to the activities restrictions under the [BHC Act] or [HOLA],” along with whether the control rule differentiates “between limiting contractual rights based on the circumstances under which the right was created or the nature of the document in which the right resides.”
On June 25, the Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, OCC, and SEC (agencies) finalized the rule, which will amend the Volcker Rule to modify and clarify the regulations implementing Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act with respect to covered funds. As covered by InfoBytes in February, the agencies issued the proposed rule, and, after the notice and comment period, finalized the proposal with certain modifications based on the public comments. Among other things, the final rule (i) exempts qualifying foreign excluded funds from certain restrictions, but modifies the anti-evasion provision and compliance program requirements from the proposal; (ii) revises the exclusions from the covered fund provisions for foreign public funds, loan securitizations, and small business investment companies; (iii) adopts several new exclusions from the covered fund provisions, including an exclusion for venture capital funds, family wealth management, and customer facilitation vehicles; (iv) permits established, codified categories of limited low-risk transactions between a banking entity and a related fund; (v) provides an express safe harbor for senior loans and senior debt, and redefines “ownership interest”; and (vi) provides clarity regarding permissible investments in the same investments as a covered fund organized or offered by the same banking entity. The final rule is effective October 1.
The FDIC also released a Fact Sheet on the final rule.
On March 31, the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) announced that its control and divestiture proceedings final rule—set to take effect April 1—would be delayed for six months. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Fed revised the bank control framework to clarify the rules used to determine if a firm controls a bank pursuant to the Bank Holding Company Act and the Home Owner’s Loan Act. The Fed stated that “[t]he delay will reduce operational burden and allow institutions to focus on current economic conditions” created by the Covid-19 pandemic. No changes were made to the final rule, which will now become effective on September 30.
On February 28, the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, SEC, and CFTC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) to modify and streamline the “covered funds” requirements under Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act, commonly known as the Volcker Rule. (Previous InfoBytes coverage of the Volcker Rule here). According to the press release, the proposed amendments “would modify and clarify the regulations concerning covered funds and would address certain related issues, including qualifying foreign excluded funds.” Among other things, the amendments to the regulations would (i) “permit the activities of qualifying foreign excluded funds”; (ii) “revise the exclusions from the definition of covered fund for foreign public funds, loan securitizations, and small business investment companies”; (iii) create exclusions from “covered fund credit funds, qualifying venture capital funds, family wealth management vehicles, and customer facilitation vehicles”; (iv) allow certain transactions that would otherwise be prohibited under the so-called “Super 23A” restrictions; (v) redefine “ownership interest”; and (vi) exclude certain investments from “a banking entity’s calculation of its ownership interest in the covered fund.” Comments in response to the NPR must be submitted by April 1.
On January 30, the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) issued a final rule to simplify and increase the transparency of existing rules for determining if a company has control over a banking organization under the Bank Holding Company Act (BHC Act) and the Home Owners’ Loan Act (HOLA). According to the Fed, the final rule—proposed last April (covered by InfoBytes here)—establishes “a comprehensive and public framework to determine when a company controls a bank or a bank controls a company” through the use of several key factors including “the company’s total voting and non-voting equity investment in the bank; director, officer, and employee overlaps between the company and the bank; and the scope of business relationships between the company and the bank.” A tiered presumptions visual accompanied the final rule, which outlines the determination of control based on the level of voting ownership at four different thresholds: less than 5 percent; 5 to 9.99 percent; 10 to 14.99 percent; and 15 to 24.99 percent. In addition, the Fed noted that the final rule “generally applies the same standards in the context of the BHC Act and HOLA” in terms of the definition of “control.” Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard issued a statement supporting the final rule, but stressed the importance of monitoring banking organizations’ ownership structures in light of the “control framework” and industry trends in order to identify issues affecting financial stability and competition. Brainard further emphasized that the “control framework” should be monitored in terms of how it interacts with other regulations involving ownership thresholds. The final rule takes effect April 1.
On January 30, the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, SEC, and CFTC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to modify and streamline the “covered funds” requirements under Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act, commonly known as the Volcker Rule (Rule). As previously covered by InfoBytes, last fall the regulators signed off on final revisions to the Rule to simplify and tailor its restrictions on a banking entity’s ability to engage in proprietary trading and own certain funds. Specifically, the proposed amendments would modify the restrictions for banking entities investing in, sponsoring, or having certain relationships with covered funds, including simplifying provisions related to foreign public funds, loan securitizations, and small business investment companies. The amendments would also, among other things, (i) limit the extraterritorial impact of the Rule on certain foreign funds offered by foreign banks to foreign investors; (ii) modify and propose several existing exclusions to allow banking entities to invest in or sponsor certain types of funds—subject to certain safeguards—such as credit funds, venture capital funds, family wealth management vehicles, and customer facilitation funds; and (iii) permit intraday extensions of credit, payment, clearing, and settlement transactions between a banking entity and covered funds the banking entity advises or sponsors, or with which the banking entity has certain other relationships. Comments will be accepted through April 1.
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.
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.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “How the new administration sets the tone for 2021” at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
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- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable