Senate holds its first hearing into SVB and Signature Bank failures

WASHINGTON — The Senate Banking Committee is slated to hold its first hearing Tuesday into the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, featuring a roster of important players in the 2024 election who will be focusing on how the government should respond to two of the largest bank failures in U.S. history.

The hearing, led by Chair Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, will feature FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg, Federal Reserve Board of Governors Vice Chair for Supervision Michael Barr, and Treasury Department Undersecretary for Domestic Finance Nellie Liang.

“We’re left with many questions — and a lot of justified anger —toward bank executives and boards, venture capitalists, federal and state bank regulators and policymakers,” Brown will say in his opening statement, according to prepared remarks.

“Even though no taxpayer money is being used to save these depositors, I understand why many Americans are angry — even disgusted — at how quickly the government mobilized when a bunch of elites in California were demanding it,” Brown will continue. “It’s because American workers haven’t seen threats to their paychecks and their livelihoods treated as the same level of emergency.”

Brown’s prepared remarks also cite the 2018 rollback of enhanced Dodd-Frank scrutiny for midsize banks like Silicon Valley Bank — a bill that was led by Republicans, backed by a faction of Democrats and signed by then-President Donald Trump. And he will call on regulators to “assess the damage,” impose accountability and “fix what is broken.”

Image: Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on March 22, 2023.Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, will lead the hearing into SVB’s collapse.Win McNamee / Getty Images

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET.

Republicans on the panel have put an emphasis on regulators, questioning whether they had more tools to stave off SVB’s collapse and why they didn’t act to prevent it from reaching the brink.

“We need the regulations that are on the books to actually be enforced. The regulators failed here,” said Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala, in an interview. “There were tons of red flags, and I want answers as to why they looked the other way. I mean, sheer indicators show that they didn’t do their job. So this is mismanagement on their part.”

“The tools were there, and they weren’t used. I want to know why,” Britt added.

SVB’s collapse was followed by the failure of New York-based Signature Bank. In the weeks since, the banking sector has sought to restore confidence. A group of 11 financial institutions pledged $30 billion in deposits to help keep First Republic Bank afloat, while in Europe, UBS purchased Credit Suisse for $3.2 billion.

A spotlight on regulators

Barr, for his part, plans to describe “the unique nature of this bank” as part of the reason for its collapse, and identify a series of issues that were the job of bank managers — not Federal Reserve supervisors — to resolve.

“SVB’s failure is a textbook case of mismanagement,” Barr will say, according to prepared testimony, going on to cite the bank’s “concentrated business model” in technology and venture capital, its rapid growth from 2019 and 2022, and its failure to “effectively manage the interest rate risk” of its securities.

Barr will also mention the bank’s reliance on depositors who were “connected by a network of venture capital firms and other ties,” adding that “when stress began, they essentially acted together to generate a bank run.” And he’ll say regulators are investigating whether the 2018 deregulation law spurred SVB’s failure.

The panel’s roster is packed with major players in the 2024 election, which presents a wild card when it comes to the congressional response.

Brown and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana are red-state Democrats seeking re-election. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., hasn’t said whether she’ll run for a second term. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., chairs the Senate GOP campaign arm. And Ranking Member Tim Scott, R-S.C., appears to be gearing up to run for president.

The House will host its own hearing on the bank failures on Wednesday, with the same panel appearing before the Financial Services Committee.

Without agreement on the cause of the bank failures, it’s not clear whether Congress will pass a new law to prevent more of them in the future. Republicans are mostly blaming regulators, while Democrats are split between some who support legislation by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to restore the rules that were repealed in 2018, and others who are reluctant to go there.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Monday the chamber should act to reimpose that enhanced scrutiny on banks, noting that he voted against rolling back those regulations in 2018.

“I think I was right then,” he said. “And I think I’m right now.”

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