The Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) was created out of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 in order to bring the financial regulatory community together to respond to risks to the financial system in order to prevent another financial crisis.
Attempts are being made by financial industry advocates to weaken the FSOC. Those advocates are accusing the Council of being overzealous in protecting the financial industry. Weakening the FSOC would only prevent the Council from identifying risks to the financial system, therefore putting the country at risk of another devastating financial crisis, according to an op/ed piece by Deputy Assistant Secretary for the FSOC at the U.S. Department of the Treasury Patrick Pinschmidt on CNBC on Monday.
“Unfortunately, there is legislation pending in both houses of Congress that would heavily tip the scales back in Wall Street's favor and leave our country vulnerable to another crisis,” Pinschmidt said. “These changes would take the council's methodical process and mire it in a series of protracted, bureaucratic steps that would require the council to spend as many as four years studying a company before it could take any action. Some of these proposals would also raise the standard for action by the council to a dangerously high threshold, all but ensuring inaction despite the risk to financial stability.”
Proponents of these proposals contend that if passed, these proposals would make the FSOC more effective; however, Pinschmidt argues that they would have the opposite effect, impeding the Council’s ability to identify risks to the financial system.
The FSOC has broken down barriers between agencies created a culture of regulatory cooperation and interagency information sharing in the five years since its creation, which has served to make the financial system safer and more resilient, according to Pinschmidt. The Council has also responded to potential weaknesses in the financial system and helped regulators focus on critical issues that include cybersecurity vulnerabilities and structural weaknesses in short-term funding markets.
“We need a body with a single-minded focus on protecting U.S. financial stability and identifying new threats on the horizon—and that's exactly what the council is doing.”
One of the major reasons why the financial crisis occurred back in 2008 is that the country was ill-equipped to address risks to the financial system; the regulatory structure could not keep up with the changing U.S. financial marketplace and the country lacked single entity that was accountable for protecting the stability of the entire financial system, Pinschmidt said. Not only that, but certain large nonbank financial companies such as AIG were not subject to adequate oversight. One of the FSOC’s main responsibilities is to provide such oversight for these nonbank financial firms by addressing risk these companies face that could put the entire financial system at risk.
“This isn't a judgment that a company is on the verge of failure,” Pinschmidt said. “Rather, it is a recognition that if one of these designated companies were to experience distress, there could be significant consequences for the broader financial system and economy. This was a clear lesson from the financial crisis.”
Those opposing the FSOC say that the Council's designation of certain firms as "systemically important financial institutions" (SIFIs), or in other words, designating them as posing a threat to the stability of the country's entire financial system if they were to fail, equates to naming institutions as "Too Big to Fail," thus perpetuating what Dodd-Frank was meant to end. One such institution is MetLife, the insurance provider designated as a nonbank SIFI in December 2014 by the FSOC. In January, MetLife sued the FSOC a month later in an attempt to have the SIFI tag removed. MetLife claims that as a nonbank SIFI, it is subject to heightened regulation which the company says will increase compliance costs, hence increasing costs to consumers without any added safety benefit for the financial system. The case is still pending.
Pinschmidt said in order to prevent another crisis, it is important to remember what caused the last one and how the country reached that point.
“We must remain vigilant,” he said. “We need a body with a single-minded focus on protecting U.S. financial stability and identifying new threats on the horizon—and that's exactly what the council is doing.”