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CRS — Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund: Programs and Policy Issues

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund: Programs and Policy Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

As communities face a variety of economic challenges, some are looking to local banks and financial institutions for solutions that address the specific development needs of low-income and distressed communities. Community development financial institutions (CDFIs) provide financial products and services, such as mortgage financing for homebuyers and not-for-profit developers, underwriting and risk capital for community facilities; technical assistance; and commercial loans and investments to small, start-up, or expanding businesses. CDFIs include regulated institutions, such as community development banks and credit unions, and nonregulated institutions, such as loan and venture capital funds.

The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (the Fund), an agency within the Department of the Treasury, administers several programs that encourage the role of CDFIs, and similar organizations, in community development. Nearly 1,000 financial institutions located throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia are eligible for the Fund’s programs to provide financial and technical assistance to meet the needs of businesses, homebuyers, community developers, and investors in distressed communities. In addition, the Fund allocates the New Markets Tax Credit to more than 5,000 eligible investment vehicles in low-income communities (LICs).

This report begins by describing the Fund’s history, current appropriations, and each of its programs. A description of the Fund’s process of certifying certain financial institutions to be eligible for the Fund’s program awards follows. The next section provides an overview of each program’s purpose, use of award proceeds, eligibility criteria, and relevant issues for Congress.

The final section analyzes four policy considerations of congressional interest, regarding the Fund and the effective use of federal resources to promote economic development.

See also: Community Development Block Grants: Funding Issues in the 113th Congress (PDF)

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Competition in lending and credit ratings

April 14, 2014 Comments off

Competition in lending and credit ratings
Source: Federal Reserve Board

This article relates corporate credit rating quality to competition in lending between the public bond market and banks. In the model, the monopolistic rating agency’s choice of price and quality leads to an endogenous threshold separating low-quality bank-dependent issuers from higher-quality issuers with access to public debt. In a baseline equilibrium with expensive bank lending, this separation across debt market segments provides information, but equilibrium ratings are uninformative. A positive shock to private (bank) relative to public lending supply allows banks to compete with public lenders for high-quality issuers, which threatens rating agency profits, and informative ratings result to prevent defection of high-quality borrowers to banks. This prediction is tested by analyzing two events that increased the relative supply of private vs. public lending sharply: legislation in 1994 that reduced barriers to interstate bank lending and the temporary shutdown of the high-yield bond market in 1989. After each event, the quality of ratings (based on their impact on bond yield spreads) increased for affected issuers. The analysis suggests that strategic behavior by the rating agency in an issuer-pays setting dampens the influence of macroeconomic shocks, and explains the use of informative unsolicited credit ratings to prevent unrated bond issues, particularly during good times. Additionally, the controversial issuer-pays model of ratings leads to more efficient outcomes than investor-pays alternatives.

Monetary Policy in the New Normal

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Monetary Policy in the New Normal
Source: International Monetary Fund

The proposed SDN would take stock of the current debate on the shape that monetary policy should take after the crisis. It revisits the pros and cons of expanding the objectives of monetary policy, the merits of turning unconventional policies into conventional ones, how to make monetary policy frameworks more resilient to the risk of being constrained by the zero-lower bound going forward, and the institutional challenges to preserve central bank independence with regards to monetary policy, while allowing adequate government oversight over central banks’ new responsibilities. It will draw policy conclusions where consensus has been reached, and highlight the areas where more work is needed to get more granular policy advice.

Community Bank Performance: How Important are Managers?

April 10, 2014 Comments off

Community Bank Performance: How Important are Managers?
Source: Federal Reserve Board

Community banks have long played an important role in the U.S. economy, providing loans and other financial services to households and small businesses within their local markets. In recent years, technological and legal developments, as well as changes in the business strategies of larger banks and non-bank financial service providers, have purportedly made it more difficult for community banks to attract and retain customers, and hence to survive. Indeed, the number of community banks and the shares of bank branches, deposits, banking assets, and small business loans held by community banks in the U.S. have all declined substantially over the past two decades. Nonetheless, many community banks have successfully adapted to their changing environment and have continued to thrive. This paper uses data from 1992 through 2011 to examine the relationships between community bank profitability and various characteristics of the banks and the local markets in which they operate. Bank characteristics examined include size, age, ownership structure, management quality, and portfolio composition; market characteristics include population, per capita income, unemployment rate, and banking market structure. We find that community bank profitability is strongly positively related to bank size; that local economic conditions have significant effects on bank profitability; that the quality of bank management matters a great deal to profitability, especially during times of economic stress; and that small banks that make major shifts to their lending portfolios tend to be less profitable than other small banks. Variables within managers’ control account for between 70 percent and 96 percent of the total explanatory power of equations explaining variations in performance across community banks.

CFPB Orders Bank Of America To Pay $727 Million In Consumer Relief For Illegal Credit Card Practices

April 9, 2014 Comments off

CFPB Orders Bank Of America To Pay $727 Million In Consumer Relief For Illegal Credit Card Practices
Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has ordered Bank of America, N.A. and FIA Card Services, N.A. to provide an estimated $727 million in relief to consumers harmed by practices related to credit card add-on products. Roughly 1.4 million consumers were affected by Bank of America’s deceptive marketing of their add-on products. Bank of America also illegally charged approximately 1.9 million consumer accounts for credit monitoring and credit reporting services that they were not receiving. Bank of America will pay a $20 million civil money penalty to the CFPB.

CRS — The Volcker Rule: A Legal Analysis

April 8, 2014 Comments off

The Volcker Rule: A Legal Analysis (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides an introduction to the Volcker Rule, which is the regulatory regime imposed upon banking institutions and their affiliates under Section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-203). The Volker Rule is designed to prohibit “banking entities” from engaging in all forms of “proprietary trading” (i.e., making investments for their own “trading accounts”)—activities that former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker often condemned as contrary to conventional banking practices and a potential risk to financial stability. The statutory language provides only general outlines of prohibited activities and exceptions. Through it, however, Congress has empowered five federal financial regulators with authority to conduct coordinated rulemakings to fill in the details and complete the difficult task of crafting regulations to identify prohibited activities, while continuing to permit activities considered essential to the safety and soundness of banking institutions or to the maintenance of strong capital markets. In December 2014, more than two years after enactment of the law, coordinated implementing regulations were issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (FRB), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

FRB OIG — The CFPB Can Improve the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Its Supervisory Activities

April 3, 2014 Comments off

The CFPB Can Improve the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Its Supervisory Activities (PDF)
Source: Federal Reserve Board, Office of Inspector General

Since it began operations in July 2011, the CFPB has made significant progress toward developing and implementing a comprehensive supervision program for depository and nondepository institutions. The agency has implemented this program on a nationwide basis across its four regional offices. While we recognize the considerable efforts associated with the initial development and implementation of the program, we believe that the CFPB can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its supervisory activities.

Specifically, we found that the CFPB needs to (1) improve its reporting timeliness and reduce the number of examination reports that have not been issued, (2) adhere to its unequivocal standards concerning the use of standard compliance rating definitions in its examination reports, and (3) update its policies and procedures to reflect current practices.

We completed our fieldwork in October 2013, using data as of July 31, 2013. Following the completion of our fieldwork, senior CFPB officials indicated that management has taken various measures to address certain findings in our report, including streamlining the report review process and reducing the number of examination reports that have not been issued. As part of our future follow-up activities, we will assess whether these actions, as well as the planned actions described in management’s response, address our findings and recommendations.

Brazil — Bank Ownership, Lending, and Local Economic Performance During the 2008-2010 Financial Crisis

April 3, 2014 Comments off

Bank Ownership, Lending, and Local Economic Performance During the 2008-2010 Financial Crisis
Source: Federal Reserve Board

While the finance literature often equates government banks with political capture and capital misallocation, these banks can help mitigate financial shocks. This paper examines the role of Brazil’s government banks in preventing a recession during the 2008-2010 financial crisis. Government banks in Brazil provided more credit, which offset declines in lending by private banks. Areas in Brazil with a high share of government banks experienced increases in lending, production, and employment during the crisis compared to areas with a low share of these banks. We find no evidence that lending was politically targeted or that it caused productivity to decline in the short-run.

Effects of Unconventional Monetary Policy on Financial Institutions

April 2, 2014 Comments off

Effects of Unconventional Monetary Policy on Financial Institutions
Source: Brookings Institution

The unconventional monetary policies that the Federal Reserve has pursued since 2008 – pushing short-term interest rates to zero, promising to keep them there for a long time and buying trillions of dollars in bonds in its quantitative easing – have not resulted in life insurers becoming riskier despite the widespread belief to the contrary.

Assessing Countries’ Financial Inclusion Standing – A New Composite Index

March 20, 2014 Comments off

Assessing Countries’ Financial Inclusion Standing – A New Composite Index
Source: International Monetary Fund

This paper leverages the IMF’s Financial Access Survey (FAS) database to construct a new composite index of financial inclusion. The topic of financial inclusion has gathered significant attention in recent years. Various initiatives have been undertaken by central banks both in advanced and developing countries to promote financial inclusion. The issue has also attracted increasing interest from the international community with the G-20, IMF, and World Bank Group assuming an active role in developing and collecting financial inclusion data and promoting best practices to improve financial inclusion. There is general recognition among policy makers that financial inclusion plays a significant role in sustaining employment, economic growth, and financial stability. Nonetheless, the issue of its robust measurement is still outstanding. The new composite index uses factor analysis to derive a weighting methodology whose absence has been the most persistent of the criticisms of previous indices. Countries are then ranked based on the new composite index, providing an additional analytical tool which could be used for surveillance and policy purposes on a regular basis.

Fed Survey Reports Easier Lending Policies in Late 2013

March 18, 2014 Comments off

Fed Survey Reports Easier Lending Policies in Late 2013
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Banks eased their lending policies and saw stronger demands for most types of business and consumer loans in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to the Federal Reserve’s January Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey.

The survey included responses from 75 domestic banks and 21 foreign banks with U.S. operations. Respondents answered questions about changes in the standards and terms on their loans to businesses and households and demand for such loans. The latest survey also included special questions about banks’ reaction to supervisory guidance on leveraged lending and the outlook for loan performance.

CRS — Independence of Federal Financial Regulators

March 4, 2014 Comments off

Independence of Federal Financial Regulators (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Conventional wisdom regarding regulators is that the structure and design of the organization matters for policy outcomes. Financial regulators conduct rulemaking and enforcement to implement law and supervise financial institutions. These agencies have been given certain characteristics that enhance their day-to-day independence from the President or Congress, which may make policymaking more technical and less “political” or “partisan,” for better or worse. Independence may also make regulators less accountable to elected officials and can reduce congressional influence, at least in the short term.

Although independent agencies share many characteristics, there are notable differences. Some federal financial regulators are relatively more independent in some areas but relatively less so in others.

High Interest GAO Report — Credit Cards: Marketing to College Students Appears to Have Declined

March 4, 2014 Comments off

Credit Cards: Marketing to College Students Appears to Have Declined
Source: Government Accountability Office

Trends associated with college affinity card agreements include fewer agreements and cardholders and declining payments, according to data GAO analyzed from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve) and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB). The number of affinity card agreements declined from 1,045 in 2009 to 617 in 2012 (41 percent). More than 70 percent of the agreements in 2012 were with institutions of higher education or alumni organizations, and one issuer—FIA Card Services, a subsidiary of Bank of America—had 67 percent of all agreements. Affinity card issuers paid $50.4 million to all organizations in 2012, 40 percent less than in 2009. In most cases, payments were based on numbers of cardholders and the amount spent on the cards. The card agreements covered contractual obligations related to such things as marketing practices, target populations, use of the organization’s logo or trademark, terms of payment, and, in some cases, service standards.

Student-focused marketing of affinity and student cards on campus appears to have declined. Four large affinity card issuers GAO interviewed (representing 91 percent of cardholders) said that they primarily targeted alumni and no longer marketed affinity cards directly to students. In interviews with GAO, institutions of higher education and affiliated organizations agreed that affinity card marketing directly to students had ceased. In addition, five of the nine largest overall credit card issuers that also issue college student credit cards told GAO they no longer actively marketed these cards (such as through direct mail, e-mail, or on-campus activity), but rather relied upon websites and bank branches. Representatives of five institutions with large affinity card agreements told GAO that they generally noticed a decline in on-campus credit card marketing in recent years. Consistent with these observations, available data show a decline in card solicitations to students in recent years. For example, a survey of students in 2013 by Student Monitor, a research firm, found that 6 percent of students reported obtaining a credit card as a result of a direct mail solicitation, compared with 36 percent in 2000.

Offshore Tax Evasion: The Effort to Collect Unpaid Taxes on Billions in Hidden Offshore Accounts

February 26, 2014 Comments off

Offshore Tax Evasion: The Effort to Collect Unpaid Taxes on Billions in Hidden Offshore Accounts (PDF)
Source: U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs

This investigation arises from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ longstanding focus on offshore tax abuse, including U.S. taxpayers using hidden offshore accounts. In 2008 and 2009, the Subcommittee held three days of hearings and released a bipartisan report examining how some tax haven banks were deliberately helping U.S. customers hide their assets offshore to evade U.S. taxes. The hearings focused on two tax haven banks, UBS AG, the largest bank in Switzerland, and LGT, a private bank owned by the royal family of Liechtenstein.1 On the first day of the hearings, UBS acknowledged its role in facilitating U.S. tax evasion, apologized for its wrongdoing, and promised to end it. It later entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, paid a $780 million fine, and turned over about 4,700 accounts with U.S. client names that had not been disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It also committed to disclosing to the IRS all future accounts opened for U.S. persons.

Since then, significant progress has been made in the effort to combat offshore tax abuses. World leaders have declared their commitment to reduce cross border tax evasion. Tax havens around the world have declared they will no longer use secrecy laws to facilitate tax dodging. In the United States, over 43,000 taxpayers joined a voluntary IRS disclosure program, came clean about their hidden offshore accounts, and paid over $6 billion in back taxes, interest, and penalties. In addition, Congress enacted the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which requires foreign banks to either disclose their U.S. customer accounts on an automatic, annual basis or pay a 30% tax on their U.S. investment income. Just this month, at the request of G8 and G20 leaders, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a model agreement that, like FATCA, will enable countries to automatically exchange account information to fight cross border tax evasion.

On the negative side of the ledger, despite evidence of widespread misconduct by Swiss banks in facilitating U.S. tax evasion, Switzerland has continued to severely restrict the ability of Swiss banks to disclose the names of U.S. customers with undeclared Swiss accounts. As a result, the United States has obtained few U.S. names and little account information. In addition, despite the passage of five years, the U.S. Justice Department has failed to hold accountable the vast majority of the 4,700 UBS accountholders whose names were given to the United States. Aside from UBS, it has prosecuted only one of the Swiss banks suspected of misconduct, while setting up a program for hundreds of Swiss banks to obtain non-prosecution agreements without disclosing the names of a single U.S. customer with a hidden account. The promise of FATCA to disclose hidden offshore accounts has also dimmed due to regulations that opened disclosure loopholes which may enable many offshore accountholders to continue to conceal their accounts from U.S. authorities.

In this Report, the Subcommittee’s investigation chronicles these developments and provides an assessment of U.S. efforts to combat offshore tax evasion through hidden foreign accounts. It examines, in particular, ongoing roadblocks erected by the Swiss Government to block bank disclosure of the names of former U.S. customers with undeclared Swiss accounts. It uses as a case study a major Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, that was deeply involved in facilitating U.S. tax evasion and whose unnamed U.S. customers continue to owe unpaid U.S. taxes on billions of dollars in hidden assets.

Citigroup: A Case Study in Managerial and Regulatory Failures

February 20, 2014 Comments off

Citigroup: A Case Study in Managerial and Regulatory Failures
Source: Indiana Law Review (forthcoming); GWU Legal Studies Research Paper; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper

Citigroup has served as the poster child for the elusive promises and manifold pitfalls of universal banking. When Citicorp merged with Travelers to form Citigroup in 1998, Citigroup’s leaders and supporters asserted that the new financial conglomerate would offer unparalleled convenience to its customers through “one-stop shopping” for banking, securities and insurance services. They also claimed that Citigroup would have a superior ability to withstand financial shocks due to its broadly diversified activities.

By 2009, those bold predictions of Citigroup’s success had turned to ashes. Citigroup pursued a high-risk, high-growth strategy during the 2000s that proved to be disastrous. As a result, the bank recorded more than $130 billion of losses on its loans and investments from 2007 to 2009. To prevent Citigroup’s failure, the federal government provided $45 billion of new capital to the bank and gave the bank $500 billion of additional help in the form of asset guarantees, debt guarantees and emergency loans. The federal government provided more financial assistance to Citigroup than to any other bank during the financial crisis.

During its early years, Citigroup was embroiled in a series of high-profile scandals, including tainted transactions with Enron and WorldCom, biased research advice, corrupt allocations of shares in initial public offerings, predatory subprime lending, and market manipulation in foreign bond markets. Notwithstanding a widely-publicized plan to improve corporate risk controls in 2005, Citigroup continued to pursue higher profits through a wide range of speculative activities, including leveraged corporate lending, packaging toxic subprime loans into mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations, and dumping risky assets into off- balance-sheet conduits for which Citigroup had contractual and reputational exposures.

Post-mortem evaluations of Citigroup’s near-collapse revealed that neither Citigroup’s managers nor its regulators recognized the systemic risks embedded in the bank’s far-flung operations. Thus, Citigroup was not only too big to fail but also too large and too complex to manage or regulate effectively. Citigroup’s history raises deeply troubling questions about the ability of bank executives and regulators to supervise and control today’s megabanks.

Citigroup’s original creators – John Reed of Citicorp and Sandy Weill of Travelers – admitted in recent years that Citigroup’s universal banking model failed, and they called on Congress to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act’s separation between commercial and investment banks. As Reed and Weill acknowledged, the universal banking model is deeply flawed by its excessive organizational complexity, its vulnerability to culture clashes and conflicts of interest, and its tendency to permit excessive risk-taking within far-flung, semi-autonomous units that lack adequate oversight from either senior managers or regulators.

New From the GAO

February 19, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Medicaid: Demographics and Service Usage of Certain High-Expenditure Beneficiaries. GAO-14-176, February 19.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-176
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661010.pdf

2. IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program: 2009 Participation by State and Location of Foreign Bank Accounts. GAO-14-265R, January 6.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-265R

FinCEN Issues Guidance to Financial Institutions on Marijuana Businesses

February 14, 2014 Comments off

FinCEN Issues Guidance to Financial Institutions on Marijuana Businesses
Source: Financial Crimes Enforcement Network

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), today issued guidance that clarifies customer due diligence expectations and reporting requirements for financial institutions seeking to provide services to marijuana businesses. The guidance provides that financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses in a manner consistent with their obligations to know their customers and to report possible criminal activity.

Providing clarity in this context should enhance the availability of financial services for marijuana businesses. This would promote greater financial transparency in the marijuana industry and mitigate the dangers associated with conducting an all-cash business. The guidance also helps financial institutions file reports that contain information important to law enforcement. Law enforcement will now have greater insight into marijuana business activity generally, and will be able to focus on activity that presents high-priority concerns.

CRS — Shadow Banking: Background and Policy Issues

February 13, 2014 Comments off

Shadow Banking: Background and Policy Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Shadow banking refers to financial firms and activities that perform similar functions to those of depository banks. Although the term is used to describe dissimilar firms and activities, a general policy concern is that a component of shadow banking could be a source of financial instability, even though that component might not be subject to regulations designed to prevent a crisis, or be eligible for emergency facilities designed to mitigate financial turmoil once it has begun. This concern is magnified by the experience of 2007-2009, during which financial problems among nonbank lenders, and disruption to securitization (in which both banks and nonbanks participated), contributed to the magnitude of the financial crisis. This report provides a framework for understanding shadow banking, discusses several fundamental problems of financial intermediation, and describes the experiences of several specific sectors of shadow banking during the financial crisis and related policy concerns.

Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved

January 29, 2014 Comments off

Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved
Source: U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General

More than a quarter of Americans live partially or completely without access to mainstream financial services and are often forced to rely on costly services like payday loans or check cashing to cover their everyday expenses. These households spent $89 billion in 2012 just on fees and interest – an average of almost 10 percent of their income.

A new Postal Service Office of Inspector General white paper explores how the U.S. Postal Service could offer a suite of non-bank financial services to help the financially underserved gain more financial stability and stay connected to the emerging digital economy. The paper examines how the Postal Service could partner with banks and other organizations to develop such services, which could help banks connect with new customers. The Postal Service already provides non-bank financial services like money orders and international money transfers, and many American families could benefit if the Postal Service expanded its offerings.

Around the world, financial services are the single biggest driver for new revenue for postal operators, and the conditions may be ripe for similar success for the U.S. Postal Service. If just 10 percent of the money underserved Americans currently spend on alternative financial services were instead spent on more affordable products from the Postal Service, it could generate some $8.9 billion in new revenue.

New From the GAO

January 8, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimony
Source: Government Accountabiity Office

Reports

1. Information Security: Agency Responses to Breaches of Personally Identifiable Information Need to Be More Consistent. GAO-14-34, December 9.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-34
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/659548.pdf

2. James Webb Space Telescope: Project Meeting Commitments but Current Technical, Cost, and Schedule Challenges Could Affect Continued Progress. GAO-14-72, January 8.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-72
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/660046.pdf

Testimony

1. Government Support for Bank Holding Companies: Statutory Changes to Limit Future Support Are Not Yet Fully Implemented, by Lawrance L. Evans Jr., director, financial markets and community investment, before the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. GAO-14-174T, January 8.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-174T

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