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Friday, December 17, 2010

Who Regulates Whom? An Overview of U.S. Financial Supervision

Mark Jickling
Specialist in Financial Economics

Edward V. Murphy
Specialist in Financial Economics

This report provides an overview of current U.S. financial regulation: which agencies are responsible for which institutions, activities, and markets, and what kinds of authority they have. Some agencies regulate particular types of institutions for risky behavior or conflicts of interest, some agencies promulgate rules for certain financial transactions no matter what kind of institution engages in it, and other agencies enforce existing rules for some institutions, but not for others. These regulatory activities are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

There are three traditional components to U.S. banking regulation: safety and soundness, deposit insurance, and adequate capital. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (P.L. 111-203) added a fourth: systemic risk. Safety and soundness regulation dates back to the 1860s when bank credit formed the money supply. Examinations of a bank’s safety and soundness is believed to contribute to a more stable broader economy. Deposit insurance was established in the 1930s to reduce the incentive of depositors to withdraw funds from banks during a panic. Banks pay premiums to support the deposit insurance fund, but the Treasury provides full faith and credit for covered deposits if the fund were to run short. Deposit insurance is a second reason that federal agencies regulate bank operations, including the amount of risk they may incur. Capital adequacy has been regulated since the 1860s when “wildcat banks” sought to make extra profits by reducing their capital reserves, which increases their risk of default and failure. Dodd-Frank created the interagency Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to monitor systemic risk and consolidated bank regulation from five agencies to four. For banks and non-banks designated by the FSOC as creating systemic risk, the Federal Reserve has oversight authority, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has resolution authority.

Federal securities regulation has traditionally been based on the principle of disclosure, rather than direct regulation. Firms that sell securities to the public must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), but the agency generally has no authority to prevent excessive risk taking. SEC registration in no way implies that an investment is safe, only that the risks have been fully disclosed. The SEC also registers several classes of securities market participants and firms. It has enforcement powers for certain types of industry misstatements or omissions and for certain types of conflicts of interest. Derivatives trading is supervised by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which oversees trading on the futures exchanges, which have selfregulatory responsibilities as well. Dodd-Frank has required more disclosures in the previously unregulated over-the-counter (off-exchange) derivatives market and has granted the CFTC and SEC authority over large derivatives traders.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) oversees a group of government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs)—public/private hybrid firms that seek both to earn profits and to further the policy objectives set out in their statutory charters. Two GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, were placed in conservatorship by the FHFA in September 2008 after losses in mortgage asset portfolios made them effectively insolvent.

Dodd-Frank consolidated consumer protection rulemaking, which had been dispersed among several federal agencies in a new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. The bureau is intended to bring consistent regulation to all consumer financial transactions, although the legislation exempted several types of firms and transactions from its jurisdiction.

Date of Report: December 8, 2010
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: R40249
Price: $29.95

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