Lawmakers to Lew: why treat insurers differently in FSOC risk review?

Two days before the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) is due to discuss, at minimum, insurance company systemic risk designations, a group of seven Congressmen led by Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., wrote to Secretary Treasury Jacob Lew with concerns that the Council is not giving insurers a fair shake.

 1839 Kollner ink and ink wash landscape of Capitol Hill,  before the dome had been added to the Capitol. Courtesy, LOC.

1839 Kollner ink and ink wash over graphite landscape of Capitol Hill, before the dome had been added to the Capitol itself. Courtesy LOC.


The treatment of the insurance industry didn’t get the public analytical effort that the asset management industry did in the FSOCs “rush” to designate firms as systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs), leading to disparate treatment of insurers, the Congressmen charged in the Sept. 2 letter.

Treasury has said before it does a very through review of the companies it reviews. metLife has been under consideration as a potential SIFI for over a year-the deliberations have not been made public nor has Treasury ever acknowledged that this company was under review.

The Council has devoted far less effort to empirical analysis, stakeholder outreach, and transparency in its consideration of insurance companies for designation than it has for asset management firms,” the Congressmen alleged.

The preliminary agenda of the Sept. 4 closed FSOC meeting includes a discussion of nonbank financial company designations as well as consideration of the Council’s fiscal year 2015 budget, and discussion of the Council’s work on asset management, according to a notice from the Treasury Department.

Joining Garrett, chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises, were GOP Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., Sean Duffy, R-Wis., Dennis Ross, R-Fla., Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., Steve Stivers, R-OH, and Mick Mulvaney, R-SC.

They asked Lew for the rationale behind the approaches to the insurance industry in its consideration of potential SIFIs, including MetLife, which may or may not go to a Council vote tomorrow for proposed SIFI designation, depending on how ready Council members are.

The Office of Financial Research (OFR), which provides research for FSOC, published a report on the asset management industry in September 13. Although the quality of the report was roundly criticized by the Congressmen and some in the industry, they used it as a point of comparison in contrast with lack of such a report for the insurance industry. The lawmakers also noted that the FSOC held a public conference on asset management back in May but questioned why a similar exercise was conducted before designating insurers as SIFIs.

Some prominent lawmakers have been busy this year sending letters to Lew and otherwise passing legislation along party line votes through committee to attempt to gain some insight control over the FSOC process, either through efforts to make it more transparent to the public or at least certain Congressional members, or to get concrete feedback on the decision-making process for nonbank SIFIs.

Garrett himself, who introduced the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R. 4387), was barred from a March 2014 FSOC meting he tried to attend.

Thus far, non bank SIFIS are AIG, GE Capital and Prudential. No asset managers have yet been named. Two insurers are under consideration, MetLife, which underwent Stage 3 analysis and has had its books formally “closed by the FSOC and another company in Stage 2, according to the minutes, which is perhaps Berkshire Hathaway, as a reinsurer, but which could be another big life insurance company, as well.

If  MetLife is designated, it would be subject to enhanced prudential supervision from the Federal Reserve Board, with a host of accompanying  holding company oversight and capital standards, a yet to be worked out by the Fed. A vote by the 10-member Council would not mean a proposed SIFI designation is official until MetLife is given a chance to respond, which may mean it decides to appeal or does nothing until the time-frame to respond elapses.

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