Friday, October 23, 2020
It’s hard to believe that the US will have an election in less than two weeks. Three years ago, a month after President Trump took office, I posted about CEOs commenting on his executive order barring people from certain countries from entering the United States. Some branded the executive order a “Muslim travel ban” and others questioned whether the CEOs should have entered into the political fray at all. Some opined that speaking out on these issues detracted from the CEOs’ mission of maximizing shareholder value. But I saw it as a business decision - - these CEOs, particularly in the tech sector, depended on the skills and expertise of foreign workers.
That was 2017. In 2018, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, told the largest companies in the world that “to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society…Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders.” Fink’s annual letter to CEOs carries weight; BlackRock had almost six trillion dollars in assets under management in 2018, and when Fink talks, Wall Street listens. Perhaps emboldened by the BlackRock letter, one year later, 181 CEOs signed on to the Business Roundtable's Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, which “modernized” its position on the shareholder maximization norm. The BRT CEOs promised to invest in employees, deal ethically and fairly with suppliers, and embrace sustainable business practices. Many observers, however, believed that the Business Roundtable statement was all talk and no action. To see how some of the signatories have done on their commitments as of last week, see here.
Then came 2020, a year like no other. The United States is now facing a global pandemic, mass unemployment, a climate change crisis, social unrest, and of course an election. During the Summer of 2020, several CEOs made public statements on behalf of themselves and their companies about racial unrest, with some going as far as to proclaim, “Black Lives Matter.” I questioned these motives in a post I called “"Wokewashing and the Board." While I admired companies that made a sincere public statement about racial justice and had a real commitment to look inward, I was skeptical about firms that merely made statements for publicity points. I wondered, in that post, about companies rushing to implement diversity training, retain consultants, and appoint board members to either curry favor with the public or avoid the shareholder derivative suits facing Oracle, Facebook, and Qualcomm. How well had they thought it out? Meanwhile, I noted that my colleagues who have conducted diversity training and employee engagement projects for years were so busy that they were farming out work to each other. Now the phones aren’t ringing as much, and when they are ringing, it’s often to cancel or postpone training.
Why? Last month, President Trump issued the Executive Order on Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping. As the President explained:
today . . . many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans ... Therefore, it shall be the policy of the United States not to promote race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating in the Federal workforce or in the Uniformed Services, and not to allow grant funds to be used for these purposes. In addition, Federal contractors will not be permitted to inculcate such views in their employees.
The Order then provides a hotline process for employees to raise concerns about their training. Whether you agree with the statements in the Order or not -- and I recommend that you read it -- it had a huge and immediate effect. The federal government is the largest procurer of goods and services in the world. This Order applies to federal contractors and subcontractors. Some of those same companies have mandates from state law to actually conduct training on sexual harassment. Often companies need to show proof of policies and training to mount an affirmative defense to discrimination claims. More important, while reasonable people can disagree about the types and content of diversity training, there is no doubt that employees often need training on how to deal with each other respectfully in the workplace. (For a thought-provoking take on a board’s duty to monitor diversity training by co-blogger Stefan Padfield, click here.)
Perhaps because of the federal government’s buying power, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce felt compelled to act. On October 15th, the Chamber and 150 organizations wrote a letter to the President stating:
As currently written, we believe the E.O. will create confusion and uncertainty, lead to non-meritorious investigations, and hinder the ability of employers to implement critical programs to promote diversity and combat discrimination in the workplace. We urge you to withdraw the Executive Order and work with the business and nonprofit communities on an approach that would support appropriate workplace training programs ... there is a great deal of subjectivity around how certain content would be perceived by different individuals. For example, the definition of “divisive concepts” creates many gray areas and will likely result in multiple different interpretations. Because the ultimate threat of debarment is a possible consequence, we have heard from some companies that they are suspending all D&I training. This outcome is contrary to the E.O.’s stated purpose, but an understandable reaction given companies’ lack of clear guidance. Thus, the E.O. is already having a broadly chilling effect on legitimate and valuable D&I training companies use to foster inclusive workplaces, help with talent recruitment, and remain competitive in a country with a wide range of different cultures. … Such an approach effectively creates two sets of rules, one for those companies that do business with the government and another for those that do not. Federal contractors should be left to manage their workforces and workplaces with a minimum amount of interference so long as they are compliant with the law.
It’s rare for the Chamber to make such a statement, but it was bold and appropriate. Many of the Business Roundtable signatories are also members of the U.S. Chamber, and on the same day, the BRT issued its own statement committing to programs to advance racial equity and justice. BRT Chair and WalMart CEO Doug McMillon observed, “the racial inequities that exist for many Black Americans and people of color are real and deeply rooted . . These longstanding systemic challenges have too often prevented access to the benefits of economic growth and mobility for too many, and a broad and diverse group of Americans is demanding change. It is our employees, customers and communities who are calling for change, and we are listening – and most importantly – we are taking action.” Now that's a stakeholder maximization statement if I ever heard one.
Those who thought that some CEOs went too far in protesting the Muslim ban, may be even more shocked by the BRT’s statements about the police. The BRT also has a subcommittee to address racial justice issues and noted that “For Business Roundtable CEOs, this agenda is an important step in addressing barriers to equity and justice . . . This summer we took on the urgent need for policing reform. We called on Congress to adopt higher federal standards for policing, to track whether police departments and officers have histories of misconduct, and to adopt measures to hold abusive officers accountable. Now, with announcement of this broader agenda, CEOs are supporting policies and undertaking initiatives to address several other systems that contribute to large and growing disparities.”
Now that stakeholders have seen so many of these social statements, they have asked for more. Last week, a group of executives from the Leadership Now Project issued a statement supporting free and fair elections. However, as Bennett Freeman, former Calvert executive and Clinton cabinet member noted, no Fortune 500 CEOs have signed on to that statement. Yesterday, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) sent a letter to 200 CEOs, including some members of the BRT asking for their support. ICCR asked that they endorse:
- Active support for free and fair elections
- A call for a thorough and complete counting of all ballots
- A call for all states to ensure a fair election
- A condemnation of any tactics that could be construed as voter intimidation
- Assurance that, should the incumbent Administration lose the election, there will be a peaceful transfer of power
- Ensure that lobbying activities and political donations support the above
Is this a pipe dream? Do CEOs really want to stick their necks out in a tacit criticism of the current president’s equivocal statements about his post-election plans? Now that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has spoken about the importance of respect for the democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power, perhaps more executives will make public statements. But should they? On the one hand, the markets need stability. Perhaps Dimon was actually really focused on shareholder maximization after all. Nonetheless, Freeman and others have called for a Twitter campaign to urge more CEOs to speak out. My next post will be up on the Friday after the election and I’ll report back about the success of the hashtag activism effort. In the meantime, stay tuned and stay safe.
October 23, 2020 in Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Securities Financing and Derivatives Markets Interconnections and Potentials for Greater Transactional Efficiencies
I just did a quick read through ISDA’s new whitepaper, Collaboration and Standardization Opportunities in Derivatives and SFT Markets. “SFT” stands for securities financing transactions. I encourage anyone studying these markets to at least review its Executive Summary. As it states “This paper explains and illustrates how and why two large, important and interconnected markets – derivatives and securities financing transactions (SFTs) – could collaborate to achieve greater standardization and improved efficiency.” (p. 3)
It's divided into two parts: 1) an overview of the relevant markets (repo, stock loan, and derivatives), their interconnectedness, and possibilities for and benefits of greater transactional efficiencies, and 2) a proposal for implementing these objectives.
Much of the paper focuses on market interconnections, which strongly argue for the possibility of improved transactional efficiencies. I kept thinking about interconnections from a systemic risk/financial stability perspective, and how (if at all) promoting greater transactional efficiencies (which, at least at first glance, seems like a good idea) might impact such considerations.
I encourage more of us in the banking and financial institutions area to give additional thought to systemic risk and financial stability issues related to securities lending, including due to its interconnections with derivatives markets. For example, while there has been much written about AIG’s CDS problems in the 2007-08 financial crisis, comparatively little work has addressed the securities lending issues it had (for example, see Securities Lending and the Untold Story in the Collapse of AIG). Nevertheless, “Participants in the SFT and derivatives markets have traditionally overlapped. Banks (including investment banks, commercial banks and central banks), prime brokers, funds (including hedge funds, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds) and market infrastructures (such as clearing houses) are among the biggest players in both the derivatives and SFT markets.” (p. 12)
Well, once I finish my article on NCWOL claims for clearinghouse shareholders for the upcoming BLPB Virtual Symposium, maybe I’ll turn my attention to clearinghouses and securities lending. I’d also love to see more work in this area by BLPB readers, and if you’ve an article related to these topics, please do send it my way!
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Just today, Professor Christopher Odinet posted Predatory Fintech and the Politics of Banking (forthcoming, Iowa Law Review) to SSRN (here). It's already been downloaded over 100 times, and I can't wait to read it! Here's the Abstract:
With American families living on the financial edge and seeking out high cost loans even before COVID-19, the term financial technology or “fintech” has been used like an incantation aimed at remedying everything that’s wrong with America’s financial system. Scholars and supporters from both the public and private sector proclaim that innovations in financial technology will “bank the unbanked” and open new channels to affordable credit. This exuberance for all things tech in finance has led to a quiet yet aggressive deregulatory agenda, including, as of late, a federal assault via rulemaking on the ability of states to police the cost and privilege of extending credit within their borders. This deregulation and the ethos behind it have made space for growth in high cost, predatory lending that reaches across state lines via websites and smart phones and that is aggressively targeting cash-strapped families. These loans are made using a business model whereby funds are funneled through a group of lightly regulated banks in a way designed to take advantage of federal preemption. Fintech companies rent out and profit from the special legal status of these bank partners, which in turn keeps the bank’s involvement in the shadows. Stripping down fintech’s predatory practices and showing them for what they really are, this Article situates fintech in the context of this country’s longstanding dual banking wars, both between states and the federal government and between consumer advocates and banking regulators. And it points the way forward for scholars and regulators willing to shake off fintech’s hypnotic effect. This means, in the short term, using existing regulatory tools to curtail the dangerous lending identified here, including by taking a more expansive view of what it means for a bank to operate safely and soundly under the law. In the long term, it means having a more comprehensive and national discussion about how we regulate household credit in the digital age, specifically through the convening of a Twenty-First Century Commission on Consumer Finance. The Article explains how and why the time is ripe to do both. As the current pandemic wipes out wages and decimates savings, leaving desperate families turning to predatory fintech finance ever more, the need for reform has never been greater.
Saturday, September 5, 2020
I think that the GCs at Big Pharma have hacked into my Zoom account. First, some background. Earlier this week, I asked my students in UM’s Lawyering in a Pandemic course to imagine that they were the compliance officers or GCs at the drug companies involved in Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership formed to find a vaccine for COVID-19 in months, rather than years. I asked the students what they would do if they thought that the scientists were cutting corners to meet the government’s deadlines. Some indicated that they would report it internally and then externally, if necessary.
I hated to burst their bubbles, but I explained that the current administration hasn’t been too welcoming to whistleblowers. I had served on a non-partisan, multi-stakeholder Department of Labor Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee when President Trump came into office, which was disbanded shortly thereafter. For over a year after that, I received calls from concerned scientists asking where they could lodge complaints. With that background, I wanted my students to think about how company executives could reasonably would report on cutting corners to the government that was requiring the “warp speed” results in the first place. We didn’t even get into the potential ethical issues related to lawyers as whistleblowers.
Well the good news is that Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi announced on Friday that they have signed a pledge to make sure that they won’t jeopardize public safety by ignoring protocols. Apparently, the FDA may be planning its own statement to reassure the public. I look forward to seeing the statements when they’re released, but these companies have been working on these drugs for months. Better late than never, but why issue this statement now? Perhaps the lawyers and compliance officers – the gatekeepers – were doing their jobs and protecting the shareholders and the stakeholders. Maybe the scientists stood their ground. We will never know how or why the companies made this decision, but I’m glad they did. The companies hadn’t announced this safety pledge yet when I had my class and at the time, almost none of the students said they would get the vaccine. Maybe the pledge will change their minds.
Although the drug companies seem to be doing the right thing, I have other questions about Kodak. During the same class, I had asked my students to imagine that they were the GC, compliance officer, or board member at Kodak. Of course, some of my students probably didn’t even know what Kodak is because they take pictures with their phones. They don’t remember Kodak for film and cameras and absolutely no one knows Kodak as a pharmaceutical company. Perhaps that’s why everyone was stunned when Kodak announced a $765 million federal loan to start producing drug ingredients, especially because it’s so far outside the scope of its business. After all, the company makes chemicals for film development and manufacturing but not for life saving drugs. Kodak has struggled over the past few years because it missed the boat on digital cameras and has significant debt, filing for bankruptcy in 2012. It even dabbled in cryptocurrency for a few months in 2018. Not the first choice to help develop a vaccine.
To be charitable, Kodak did own a pharmaceutical company for a few years in the 80’s. But its most recent 10-K states that “Kodak is a global technology company focused on print and advanced materials and chemicals. Kodak provides industry-leading hardware, software, consumables and services primarily to customers in commercial print, packaging, publishing, manufacturing and entertainment.”
The Kodak deal became even more newsworthy because the company issued 1.75 million in stock and options to the CEO and other grants to company insiders and board members before the public announcement of the federal loan. The CEO had only had the job for a year. I haven’t seen any news reports of insiders complaining or refusing the grants. In fact, the day after the announcement of the loan, a Kodak board member made a $116 million dollar donation to charity he founded. Understandably, the news of the deal caused Kodak’s shares to soar. Insiders profited, and the SEC started asking questions after looking at records of the stock trades.
Alas, the deal is on hold as the SEC investigates. The White House’s own trade advisor has said that this may be “one of the dumbest decisions by executives in corporate history.” I’m not sure about that, but there actually may be nothing to see here. Some believe that there was a snafu with the timing of the announcement and that the nuances of Reg FD may get Kodak off the hook .I wonder though, what the gatekeepers were doing? Did the GC, compliance officer, or any board member ask the obvious questions? “Why are we doing something so far outside of our core competency?” They didn’t even get the digital camera thing right and that is Kodak’s core competency. Did anyone ask “should we really be issuing options and grants right before the announcement? Isn’t this loan material, nonpublic information and shouldn’t we wait to trade?”
I’ll keep watching the Kodak saga and will report back. In coming posts, I’ll write about other compliance and corporate governance mishaps. In the meantime, stay safe and please wear your masks.
September 5, 2020 in Compensation, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
As I shared last week (here), many of us who study banking law and regulation are watching the path of Lacewell v. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), a case about the OCC’s power to grant federal fintech charters to nondepository institutions, that is in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We've been treated to dueling banking law prof amicus curiae briefs (additional amicus briefs were also filed). In this week’s post, I’ll highlight the brief written by Professor David Zaring at the Wharton School. Download Zaring_Brief
Zaring has previously written about OCC chartering practices (here). He argues that “the OCC has the authority to issue special purpose national bank charters for financial technology (fintech) companies pursuant to the National Bank Act and 12 C.F.R. §5.20(e)(1).” Hence, the District Court’s judgement should be reversed.
First, as Zaring notes, the core issue here really is: “what is banking?” He argues that the “the business of banking” is “susceptible to more than one meaning,” and that receipt of deposits is not an essential aspect of what it is to be a bank. The plain text of 12 C.F.R. §5.20(e)(1) “allow[s] national banks to obtain an SPNB [special purpose national bank] charter so long as they conduct at least one of three enumerated functions-(1) receive deposits, (2) pay checks, or (3) lend money.” Second, the OCC has a history of taking a cautious, “reasoned approach to charters,” and it “is not trying to hide an elephant in a mousehole or expand the definition of the ‘business of banking’ out of all recognition…” Indeed, Zaring asserts, “the agency’s past practice with special charters illustrates its caution.” Third, it’s costly and unwise to require online fintech firms “to tailor their businesses by state borders,” because of the U.S.’s dual banking system. “Few industries benefit more from regulation at the national level than industries that exist on the internet.” Fourth, the lack of a federal fintech charter is costly to the U.S. in terms of “investment in financial technology,” and international competitiveness in this arena. Finally, the OCC’s “chartering decisions are reviewable,” and, “if appropriate,” the “Court should clarify” this.
Zaring does an excellent job of explaining why the OCC has the authority to grant federal fintech charters to nondepository institutions, and I encourage BLPB readers to review his brief. As I previously noted, the answer to what might seem to be a technical banking law question of interest to few (and perhaps uninteresting to most) will have tremendous practical ramifications.
Stay tuned for Part III! I’ll plan to update BLPB readers when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issues its decision.
Friday, August 14, 2020
As an academic and consultant on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters, I’ve used a lot of loaded terms -- greenwashing, where companies tout an environmentally friendly record but act otherwise; pinkwashing, where companies commoditize breast cancer awareness or LGBTQ issues; and bluewashing, where companies rally around UN corporate social responsibility initiatives such as the UN Global Compact.
In light of recent events, I’ve added a new term to my arsenal—wokewashing. Wokewashing occurs when a company attempts to show solidarity with certain causes in order to gain public favor. Wokewashing isn’t a new term. It’s been around for years, but it gained more mainstream traction last year when Unilever’s CEO warned that companies were eroding public trust and industry credibility, stating:
Woke-washing is beginning to infect our industry. It’s polluting purpose. It’s putting in peril the very thing which offers us the opportunity to help tackle many of the world’s issues. What’s more, it threatens to further destroy trust in our industry, when it’s already in short supply… There are too many examples of brands undermining purposeful marketing by launching campaigns which aren’t backing up what their brand says with what their brand does. Purpose-led brand communications is not just a matter of ‘make them cry, make them buy’. It’s about action in the world.
The Black Lives Matter and anti-racism movements have brought wokewashing front and center again. My colleague Stefan Padfield has written about the need for heightened scrutiny of politicized decisions and corporate responses to the BLM movement here, here, and here, and Ann Lipton has added to the discussion here. How does a board decide what to do when faced with pressure from stakeholders? How much is too much and how little is too little?
The students in my summer Regulatory Compliance, Corporate Governance, and Sustainability course were torn when they acted as board members deciding whether to make a public statement on Black Lives Matter and the murder of George Floyd. As fiduciaries of a consumer goods company, the “board members” felt that they had to say “something,” but in the days before class they had seen the explosion of current and former employees exposing companies with strong social justice messaging by pointing to hypocrisy in their treatment of employees and stakeholders. They had witnessed the controversy over changing the name of the Redskins based on pressure from FedEx and other sponsors (and not the Native Americans and others who had asked for the change for years). They had heard about the name change of popular syrup, Aunt Jemima. I intentionally didn’t force my students to draft a statement. They merely had to decide whether to speak at all, and this was difficult when looking at the external realities. Most of the students voted to make some sort of statement even as every day on social media, another “woke” company had to defend itself in the court of public opinion. Others, like Nike, have received praise for taking a strong stand in the face of public pressure long before it was cool and profitable to be “woke.”
Now it’s time for companies to defend themselves in actual court (assuming plaintiffs can get past various procedural hurdles). Notwithstanding Facebook and Oracle’s Delaware forum selection bylaws, the same lawyers who filed the shareholder derivative action against Google after its extraordinary sexual harassment settlement have filed shareholder derivative suits in California against Facebook, Oracle, and Qualcomm. Among other things, these suits generally allege breach of the Caremark duty, false statements in proxy materials purporting to have a commitment to diversity, breach of fiduciary duty relating to a diverse slate of candidates for board positions, and unjust enrichment. Plaintiffs have labeled these cases civil rights suits, targeting Facebook for allowing hate speech and discriminatory advertising, Qualcomm for underpaying women and minorities by $400 million, and Oracle for having no Black board members or executives. Oracle also faces a separate class action lawsuit based on unequal pay and gender.
Why these companies? According to the complaints, “[i]f Oracle simply disclosed that it does not want any Black individuals on its Board, it would be racist but honest…” and “[a]t Facebook, apparently Zuckerberg wants Blacks to be seen but not heard.” Counsel Bottini explained, “when you actually go back and look at these proxy statements and what they’ve filed with the SEC, they’re actually lying to shareholders.”
I’m not going to discuss the merits of these cases. Instead, for great analysis, please see here written by attorneys at my old law firm Cleary Gottlieb. I’ll do some actual legal analysis during my CLE presentation at the University of Tennessee Transactions conference on October 16th.
Instead, I’m going to make this a little more personal. I’m used to being the only Black person and definitely the only Black woman in the room. It’s happened in school, at work, on academic panels, and in organizations. When I testified before Congress on a provision of Dodd-Frank, a Black Congressman who grilled me mercilessly during my testimony came up to me afterwards to tell me how rare it was to see a Black woman testify about anything, much less corporate issues. He expressed his pride. For these reasons, as a Black woman in the corporate world, I’m conflicted about these lawsuits. Do corporations need to do more? Absolutely. Is litigation the right mechanism? I don’t know.
What will actually change? Whether or not these cases ever get past motions to dismiss, the defendant companies are likely to take some action. They will add the obligatory Black board members and executives. They will donate to various “woke” causes. They will hire diversity consultants. Indeed, many of my colleagues who have done diversity, equity, and inclusion work for years are busier than they have ever been with speaking gigs and training engagements. But what will actually change in the long term for Black employees, consumers, suppliers, and communities?
When a person is hired or appointed as the “token,” especially after a lawsuit, colleagues often believe that the person is under or unqualified. The new hire or appointee starts under a cloud of suspicion and sometimes resentment. Many eventually resign or get pushed out. Ironically, I personally know several diversity officers who have left their positions with prestigious companies because they were hired as window dressing. Although I don’t know Morgan Stanley’s first Chief Diversity Officer, Marilyn Booker, her story is familiar to me, and she has now filed suit against her own company alleging racial bias.
So I’ll keep an eye on what these defendants and other companies do. Actions speak louder than words. I don’t think that shareholder derivative suits are necessarily the answer, but at least they may prompt more companies to have meaningful conversations that go beyond hashtag activism.
August 14, 2020 in Ann Lipton, Compliance, Consulting, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Delaware, Financial Markets, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Shareholders, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, August 13, 2020
Those of us who study banking law and regulation know it’s an absolutely exciting area! That’s particularly true at the moment. Not only are we watching the path of Lacewell v. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), a case about the OCC’s power to grant federal fintech charters to nondepository institutions, currently in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but we’ve also been treated to dueling banking law prof amicus curiae briefs (additional amicus briefs were also filed). In this week’s post, I’ll highlight the brief led by Lev Menand, Saule Omarova, Morgan Ricks, Joe Sommer, and Art Wilmarth, and signed by thirty-three banking law scholars (here).
The professors begin by stating their interest: “ensuring that banking agencies stay within their statutory mandates and work in the public interest.” They term the OCC’s proposal to charter nondepository fintech firms “a dangerous power grab premised on the novel claim that banking is just another word for lending.” In a nutshell, the scholars argue that “the OCC does not have the power to charter entities that are not in the deposit – that is, money creation – business.” It’s actually illegal – as the brief notes – for “unregulated entities to receive deposits.” “Bank deposits constitute the bulk of our nation’s money supply, and it is for this reason that banks are subject to strict federal oversight…Creating deposit dollars is a delegated sovereign privilege – an extremely sensitive activity that justifies federal chartering, regulation, and supervision.” The OCC’s very name is linked to the nation’s currency system!
As the brief explains, if the OCC were to be able to grant federal fintech charters to nondepository institutions, this would result in a significant expansion of its regulatory authority. It would also impact the governance of the Federal Reserve, and expand access to Fed master accounts and discount window lending. Additionally, as banks are exempt from the coverage of the federal securities laws and investment company laws, it would impact the coverage of these laws, and it would even create “an alternative, OCC-controlled system of business organization available to a huge range of companies.”
Indeed, the answer to what might seem to be a technical banking law question of interest to few (and perhaps boring to most) will have tremendous ramifications. The professors do an excellent job of explaining the implications of the OCC having the authority to grant federal fintech charters, and I encourage BLPB readers to review their brief.
Stay tuned for Part II, next Wednesday!! I’ll be highlighting Professor David Zaring’s Amicus Curiae Brief supporting the OCC’s position.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
An abstract for Ethics of Legal Astuteness: Barring Class Actions Through Arbitration Clauses, written with Daniel T. Ostas and published in the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal is below, and the article is here.
Recent Supreme Court cases empower firms to effectively bar class
action lawsuits through mandatory arbitration clauses included in
consumer adhesion and employment contracts. This article reviews
these legal changes and argues for economic self-restraint among
both corporate executives and corporate lawyers who advise them.
Arbitration has many virtues as it promises to reduce transaction costs
and to streamline economic exchange. Yet, the ethics of implementing
a legal strategy often requires self-restraint when one is in a position
of power, and always requires respect for due process when issues of
human health, safety, and dignity are in play.
An abstract for Banking on the Cloud, written with David Fratto and Lee Reiners, and published in Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law is below, and the article is here.
Cloud computing is fast becoming a ubiquitous part of today’s
economy for both businesses and individuals. Banks and financial
institutions are no exception. While it has many benefits, cloud
computing also has costs and introduces risks. Significant cloud
providers are single points of failure and, as such, are an important
new source of systemic risk in financial markets. Given this reality,
this article argues that such institutions should be considered critical
infrastructures and designated as systemically important financial
market utilities under Dodd-Frank’s Title VIII
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Yesterday, Randal K. Quarles, the Vice Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and Chair of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), gave a speech at the Exchequer Club entitled “Global in Life and Orderly in Death: Post-Crisis Reforms and the Too-Big-to-Fail Question” (here). As he notes, the catchy first part of this title harkens back to the 2010 words of Mervyn King, then Governor of the Bank of England, who stated that “most large complex financial institutions are global—at least in life if not in death.” Quarles asserts that “In this pithy sentence, he [King] summed up the challenge policymakers faced.”
The context of Quarles’ speech is the FSB’s recent consultation report: Evaluation of the effects of too-big-to-fail reforms (here). Two major challenges post-crisis banking reforms sought to address were: 1) the market’s assumption that big banks would not be allowed to fail, and the moral hazard this created, and 2) the absence of effective resolution frameworks for global banks, which lead to bank rescues. There’s lots of good news here, including that prior to the current crisis, globally systemically important bank capital ratios had doubled since 2011 to 14%. As a result of this and other reforms, such banks have fared much better in the current crisis, and “[t]his has allowed the banking system to absorb rather than amplify the current macroeconomic shock.” Good news indeed!
At the same time, the challenges of the current crisis are not over. The International Monetary Fund projects that the global economy will contract by 4.9% in 2020 (a steeper decline than with the 2007-08 financial crisis). And Quarles notes that “The corporate sector entered the crisis with high levels of debt and has necessarily borrowed more during the event. And many households are facing bleak employment prospects. The next phase will inevitably involve an increase in non-performing loans and provisions as demand falls and some borrowers fail.”
Corporate and consumer bankruptcies are almost certain to increase as a result of the current crisis. Should a wave of such bankruptcies materialize, this could lead not only to a broader financial crisis, but also to the overwhelming of bankruptcy courts, including a need for additional bankruptcy judges (here). In the U.K., banks have been told to “rethink handling of crisis debt” (here), and the need for related, effective dispute resolution systems has also been noted.
Once again, the necessity of effective resolution frameworks is likely to be front and center in banking regulation. However, this time, it is likely to be a need for effective dispute resolution frameworks so that banks can speedily deal with consumer and corporate bankruptcies to promote economic recovery.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Yesterday, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), whose ownership consists of 62 central banks, released its Annual Economic Report (here). It’s a treasure trove of information for banking and financial market regulation types (like me!) and includes a plethora of informative data and graphs. It’s divided into three main parts: 1) A global sudden stop, 2) A monetary lifeline: central banks’ crisis response, and 3) Central banks and payments in the digital era. Definitely well worth reading!
Sunday, June 21, 2020
On p. 17 of Rules for Principles and Principles for Rules: Tools for Crafting Sound Financial Regulation (here), Heath P. Tarbert, the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, provides a useful table that he notes “is intended to be a helpful reference point for regulators confronted with finding the appropriate balance between principles and rules.” I found myself thinking of how helpful a table like this – and the article in general – would have been when I was teaching courses focused on the regulation of financial markets!
I highly recommend this very readable work to BLPB readers, especially to those teaching in the area of regulation. In fact, I’d likely make this article assigned reading if I were teaching a course on financial regulation this fall. It does an excellent job of providing an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of principles-based versus rules-based approaches to regulation and discussing hybrid possibilities. It also examines four categories of factors that suggest taking one approach over the other (summarized in the p.17 table), and applies these factors to several areas (automated trading, position limits, cross-border regulations, and digital assets).
Sunday, June 7, 2020
In doing a routine SSRN search, I’m always thrilled to see an exciting new banking article! At the top of my “to read list” for this week is Michael Salib & Christina Parajon Skinner’s, Executive Override of Central Banks: A Comparison of the Legal Frameworks in the United States and the United Kingdom (here). For a quick read, the authors have a post on the CLS Blue Sky Blog (here). The article's abstract is here:
This Article examines executive branch powers to “override” the decisions of an independent central bank. It focuses in particular on the power and authority of a nation’s executive branch to direct its central bank, thereby circumscribing canonical central bank independence. To investigate this issue, this Article compares two types of executive over- rides: those found in the United States, exercised by the U.S. Treasury (Treasury) over the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed), and those in the United Kingdom, exercised by Her Majesty’s Treasury (HM Treasury) over the Bank of England (the Bank). This Article finds that in the former, the power is informal and subject to minimal formal oversight, whereas in the latter, there are legal powers of executive override within an established and transparent legal framework.
This Article is the first piece of scholarship to undertake comparative analysis of the legal powers of executive override over these two leading central banks. The comparison is indeed striking—it juxtaposes the express, but limited, legal powers of HM Treasury to direct the Bank of England with the ad hoc and informal conventions of Treasury or presidential control of the Federal Reserve. The comparative analysis begs a paradoxical question in the conception of central bank independence: could a narrowly tailored set of override powers that authorize a treasury, with oversight from the legislature, to direct a central bank in exigent circumstances yield a sturdier form of central bank independence than a system which establishes few or limited legal mechanisms of executive override? Ultimately, this analysis prompts renewed examination of the way in which the law structures the Fed’s independence vis-a`-vis the Treasury and the President, informed by lessons from the U.K. design.
Sunday, May 31, 2020
This past week, I had occasion to return to the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) recent Consultative document, Guidance on financial resources to support CCP resolution and on the treatment of CCP equity in resolution (Guidance), which I wrote a brief post about several weeks ago (here). In doing so, I spent more time thinking about the possibility of clearinghouse shareholders raising “no creditor worse off than in liquidation” (NCWOL) claims in a resolution scenario. I’m struggling with this idea. Shareholders are not creditors. I’ve decided to research this issue more and plan to write a short article. Stay tuned.
The Guidance notes the principle:
that in resolution CCP [clearinghouse] equity should absorb losses first, that CCP equity should be fully loss-absorbing, and that resolution authorities should have powers to write down (fully or partially) CCP equity.
It also notes that:
actions in resolution that expose CCP equity to larger default or non-default losses than in liquidation under the applicable insolvency regime could, based on the relevant counterfactual, enable equity holders to raise NCWOL claims. This may be inconsistent with the other Key Attributes principle that equity should be fully loss absorbing in resolution. This may also raise moral hazard concerns by allowing equity holders to maintain their equity interest in a CCP post resolution while participants are made to bear losses.
Most clearinghouses – for example ICE Clear Credit, a clearinghouse for CDS, and CME Clearing, a clearinghouse within CME Group – are now part of publicly traded global exchange group structures. Historically, clearinghouses were owned by their users/participants. Post Dodd-Frank, some clearinghouses, including the two just noted, have been designated as systemically significant financial market utilities (here).
Over a long period of time, clearinghouses have proven themselves to be robust risk management institutions. However, they can and have failed. Clearinghouses can experience losses due to the default of a clearing member(s), due to non-clearing member default issues (for example, cybersecurity problems, investment or custody losses, operational problems etc.), or due to a combination of both default and non-default issues.
Clearinghouses have rulebooks (contractual arrangements between the clearinghouse and clearing members/participants) that delineate how losses will be handled in the event that a clearing member were to default. Typically, clearinghouse default waterfalls in rulebooks direct that if the defaulting member’s performance bond (initial margin) does not cover its obligations, then a limited amount of funds contributed by the clearinghouse itself would be used to cover losses, and then any remaining losses would be covered by a common default fund which all clearing members are required to contribute to. Were the default fund to be exhausted, rulebooks generally permit clearinghouses to make an additional “cash call” to members. Were losses then still outstanding, the clearinghouse would initiate a recovery process.
Clearing members have called for clearinghouses to put additional capital at risk in this default waterfall structure (here) and to be required to hold additional capital. There is an obvious tension/conflict of interest between clearing members of a publicly traded clearinghouse being largely responsible for default losses and the clearinghouses's shareholders benefiting from the clearinghouse’s profits and managing its risk. Of course, if clearinghouses were owned by their users as they were historically, this conflict of interest would not exist. An alternative to the remutualization of clearinghouses would be for the clearinghouse to be responsible for any default losses that exceeded the defaulting member’s initial margin. From my perspective, this would make a lot more sense. I'm unaware of other examples in which the customers (clearing members) of a publicly traded institution, rather than its shareholders, are responsible for losses created by other customers.
Were a systemically important clearinghouse to become distressed, a resolution authority (RA) could step in – perhaps prior to the completion of the clearinghouse’s recovery process – to ensure the continuity of the clearinghouse’s operations and financial market stability. Systemically important clearinghouses are too critical to fail. Were the RA to take actions resulting in the shareholders experiencing larger losses than they would “in liquidation under the applicable insolvency regime,” there is a concern that such action by the RA could “enable equity holders to raise NCWOL claims.” I would think that this concern would largely disappear if the odd situation of having customers paying for the losses of other customers at a publicly traded institution did not exist or if clearinghouses were owned by their users.
At least for now, in my pre-NCWOL claims by clearinghouse shareholders article world, it’s unclear to me why given that shareholders are not creditors that shareholders would (or should) be able to make credible “NCWOL” claims as shareholders in resolution. I understand that a RA could step in before a clearinghouse recovery process were complete and that shareholders might lose more than they would were the rulebook procedures followed. I also understand that clearinghouse rulebooks generally require clearing members – rather than shareholders – to absorb the majority of the losses from the default of a clearing member. But at the end of the day, shareholders are simply not creditors. Perhaps if it were clear ex-ante that clearinghouse shareholders would be unable to make NCWOL claims in a clearinghouse resolution, it might help to rationalize the incentive conflicts in the clearinghouse area. If clearinghouse shareholders want to make “no shareholder worse off than in liquidation” claims, then the case should be made for that.
Sunday, May 10, 2020
Last Monday, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) released the consultative document, Guidance on financial resources to support CCP resolution and on the treatment of CCP equity in resolution (here). As readers know, I’ve written several times about clearinghouses, the central feature of the G20’s reforms to the over-the-counter derivative markets following the 2007-08 crises, implemented in the US in Dodd-Frank’s Title VII (for example, here and here).
The Guidance’s title is a succinct encapsulation of its two-part focus. In the first part, it uses a five-step process to evaluate the adequacy of a CPP’s resources and available tools to support its resolution (were that to prove necessary). These steps include:
Step 1: identifying hypothetical default and non-default loss scenarios (and a combination of them) that may lead to resolution;
Step 2: conducting a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of existing resources and tools available in resolution;
Step 3: assessing potential resolution costs;
Step 4: comparing existing resources and tools to resolution costs and identifying any gaps; and
Step 5: evaluating the availability, costs and benefits of potential means of addressing any identified gaps.
In the second part, the Guidance focuses on how to treat CCP equity in resolution. A resolution of a CCP would be distinct from a “wind down” of the CCP. Readers might ask why one would have to think about such a thing – equity will likely get wiped out, right? Not necessarily. Today, most CCPs are shareholder-owned, but the CCP users/customers (clearing members) are mostly on the hook for any losses resulting from a user’s default. As I’ve written about in Incomplete Clearinghouse Mandates (here), this creates a foundational incentive problem because the shareholders benefit from the CCP’s profits, but the users are primarily responsible for any default losses.
As the Guidance notes, in theory, CCPs could experience losses due to user defaults, non-default issues, or a combination of both. How CCPs owned by shareholders will allocate losses between themselves and users in a “combination” scenario is completely unclear (allocation of non-default losses is also unclear in many cases) and should be addressed as I’ve noted before (here). Should the combination scenario arise, I think loss allocation will prove to be an intractable problem.
In reading the second part of the Guidance, one realizes how complicated and legally fraught the question of CCP equity could be in a resolution given the status quo. Towards the end of the second part, the Guidance states that:
Based on the analysis undertaken in accordance with the previous sections, the relevant home authorities should address the challenges relating to CCP equity fully bearing losses in resolution. This may include, where possible, that home authorities having the relevant powers and authority require that CCPs modify their capital structures, rules or other governance documents in a manner that subordinates shareholders to other creditors or sets out the point at which equity absorbs losses in legally enforceable terms. This may also include identifying or proposing potential changes to laws, regulations or powers of the relevant supervisory, oversight or resolution authorities that would enable achieving the resolution objectives or limit the potential for NCWOL claims.
In the short term, the last sentence of this quote likely offers a more feasible approach to handling CCP equity than what I think would be a more sensible approach: addressing the ownership structure of these institutions. This would almost certainly be much more difficult to implement in practice, but it’s ultimately a simpler, more sensible long-term solution for addressing CCP equity in resolution and for addressing loss allocation under a combination scenario. Until we fix this foundational issue of ownership, we shouldn’t be surprised if the path of a distressed, systemically significant clearinghouse ultimately resembles that of the government‐backed mortgage lenders whose fate more than 11.5 years after entering government conservatorship still remains uncertain. Let’s not repeat this history!
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
The National Center for Public Policy Research has posted an open letter to Blackrock CEO Larry Fink that should be of interest to readers of this blog. I provide some excerpts below. The full letter can be found here.
Dear Mr. Fink,
This economic crisis makes it more important than ever that companies like BlackRock focus on helping our nation’s economy recover. BlackRock and others must not add additional hurdles to recovery by supporting unnecessary and harmful environmental, social, and governance (ESG) shareholder proposals.
…. we are especially concerned that your support for some ESG shareholder proposals and investor initiatives brings political interests into decisions that should be guided by shareholder interests…. when a company’s values become politicized, the interests of the diverse group of shareholders and customers are overshadowed by the narrow interests of activist groups pushing a political agenda.
…. ESG proposals will add an extra-regulatory cost .... This may harm everyday Americans who are invested in these companies through pension funds and retirement plans. While this won’t affect folks in your income bracket, this may be the difference between affording medication, being able to retire, or supporting a family member’s education for many Americans.
There is a financial risk to this tack as well. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “[p]erformance of BlackRock’s own iShares range of ESG funds shows that ESG is no guarantee of gold-plated returns. Its two oldest in the U.S., set up in 2005 and 2006 and now tracking the MSCI USA ESG Select index and the MSCI KLD 400 Social index, have both lagged behind iShares’ S&P 500 fund.”
And while publicly traded companies operate under a legal fiduciary duty to their investors, this is also a moral imperative. Free market capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any economic system in world history. That’s because, at its simplest level, capitalism operates under the basic rule that all exchanges are voluntary. Therefore, to achieve wealth and create growth in a capitalist system, one must appeal to the self-interest of others….
Thursday, April 9, 2020
Congressional securities trading has attracted a good bit of attention after controversial trades by Senators Burr and Loeffler. The scrutiny has even drawn more attention to another surprisingly well-timed trade by Senator Burr.
In his essay, Shill takes up the issue from a policy perspective, looking at how we ought to regulate Congressional Securities Trading. He draws from ordinary securities regulation and suggest pulling over the trading plan approach and short-swing profit prohibition we use for corporate executives. This approach should help manage ordinary securities transactions by members of Congress and their staff. He also advocates for limiting Congressional investing to U.S. index funds and treasuries. This would reduce the incentive to favor one market participant over another.
The proposed reforms would be a substantial improvement over the status quo. We should not have legislators with significant financial incentives to favor one company over another when making law and setting policy. We should also not subsidize public service by tolerating Congressional trading on Congressional information.
Of course, we'll still face some implementation challenges. When and how would we require newly-elected and currently-serving officials to liquidate existing portfolios? What kinds of exceptions would we make for private-company investments where no ready, liquid market exists? These implementation challenges strike me as mild compared to the benefits.
And Congressional adoption of the proposal would certainly yield substantial benefits. Although difficult to quantify, two broad benefits seem clear. First, adopting the proposal would generally increase confidence in government's integrity. As we're seeing with the pandemic, public trust in public officials can shift how society responds in times of collective crisis.
Allowing federal officials to trade securities generates real harm, confusion, and suspicion. Consider the hubbub over Trump's indirect ownership of a tiny stake in drug-maker Sanofi. Some have seized on the small, indirect interest to contend that he now hypes a particular drug for personal gain. A public-trust-focused regime limiting all elected officials to only broad index funds and U.S. Treasuries would likely cut down on the fear that officials recommend particular things to the public because of their economic interests. To be clear, it strikes me as extremely unlikely that the President now hypes the drug because of his minuscule ownership stake. The much likelier explanation is simply disordered magical thinking.
Many politicians have been targeted by similar attacks. This particular type of ill-informed charge has also been leveled at Senator Elizabeth Warren. One deeply misleading headline claimed she "invested in private prisons" before going on to explain that she owned a Vanguard index fund. It would be better to remove this line of attack entirely by sharply limiting the ways public officials invest.
Limiting Congressional ownership would also advance another vital national interest by increasing confidence in American securities markets. Our ability to attract capital and move it from investors to the real economy depends on confidence in the system. If investors fear that Congressional insiders have a leg up, they may not be as likely to participate in our markets.
As Congress considers how to regulate on these issues in the future, it should pay close attention to Shill's recommendations.
Sunday, March 29, 2020
In a December 2018 post (here), I noted that “although esoteric, such issues as who has access to an account at the Fed are critical social policy choices with real world implications that merit broad-based public debate.”
This past week, a federal district court judge granted the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s (FRBNY) motion to dismiss The Narrow Bank’s (TNB) complaint in TNB USA Inc. v. Federal Reserve Bank of New York (USDC SDNY) (here). In light of this recent opinion, I wanted to reiterate my invitation to BLPB readers to think about seemingly technical, arcane issues such as who gets an account at the Fed – a master account is essentially a bank account at a regional Federal Reserve Bank enabling access to the Federal Reserve Payments System – and how such decisions should be made. The importance of this critical policy issue is only set to increase. A few months ago, the Federal Reserve announced plans to develop FedNow Service (here).
TNB is a financial institution with an innovative business model. Professor Peter-Conti Brown has written about it (here). It’s model is essentially this: open an account at the Federal Reserve, deposit customer funds (financial institution customers), receive interest on the funds deposited at the Fed’s Interest on Excess Reserves Rate (“IOER rate”), keep a slice of the gains, and pay out the remainder to customers. The Federal Reserve is a risk-free counterparty, but it is not limited to paying the risk-free interest rate. So, TNB has a really clever business model. TNB’s Chairman & CEO, James McAndrews spent 28 years working in the Federal Reserve System (19 at the FRBNY). Its Board members also includes two highly respected finance professors: Gary Gorton at Yale University and Darrell Duffie at Stanford University.
TNB received a “temporary Certificate of Authority” from the Connecticut Department of Banking, contingent on several things, including “that the FRBNY would open a master account for TNB.” As the opinion explains, the FRBNY has not actually denied TNB’s application for a master account…though at least 18 months have passed since TNB applied for it! However, as the opinion notes, “the FRBNY’s delay is not TNB’s cause of action.” Hence, United States District Judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr. granted the FRBNY’s motion to dismiss, writing that “TNB lacks standing to pursue its claim, which is also constitutionally and prudentially unripe.”
The decision strikes me as technically correct, and it will be interesting to see TNB’s strategy from here. I’m not taking a position on whether TNB should/should not have a master account without additional research and thought. However, what I am taking a position on is the importance of greater public debate about the underlying policy questions surrounding who does/doesn’t get an account at the Fed.
In Regulating the Invisible: The Case of Over-the-Counter Derivatives (here), I noted that ICE US Trust LLC, an uninsured NY trust company clearing credit default swaps – controversial financial instruments that had just played a huge role in the financial crisis of 2007-08 – had been granted membership in the Federal Reserve System in 2009 (here). ICE Trust was essentially the predecessor of ICE Clear Credit, which essentially has the monopoly on CDS clearing today. Dodd-Frank’s Title VIII explicitly provides the Federal Reserve with the ability to provide accounts and services to clearinghouses designated as systemically important under that title. But prior to Dodd-Frank, I think that granting ICE Trust membership in the Federal Reserve System was a questionable decision.
The Fed obviously has its hands full at the moment with much more urgent issues. In the future, however, it should provide additional clarity about the granting of master accounts and the general timing of such decisions.
Sunday, February 16, 2020
What’s the #1 new release in Banking Law on Amazon? I’m glad you asked! It’s Professor David Zaring’s first book, The Globalized Governance of Finance (Cambridge University Press). In 2008, Zaring joined Wharton's Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department as an assistant professor. At the time, I was a PhD student in the Department and also focused on banking law. So, it was really exciting for me to have a banking law scholar join us and I’m thrilled to now have a chance to highlight his new book. My copy is on its way from Amazon, so for now, I’ll share Zaring’s description of his book and my own thoughts with BLPB readers soon!
The book pulls together work I’ve done on the regulatory networks – the Basel Committee, IOSCO, IAIS, e.g., – that have become the global taste for harmonizing financial regulation. I think the regimes, and their relative bindingness (especially Basel), are interesting in their own right, and they are also an interesting way of doing global governance, where the sine qua non is often thought to be a treaty enforced by a tribunal, a la the World Trade Organization.
But in finance, you see neither of those things, and still robust oversight that American regulators, regardless of administration, seem to embrace. Even as the Trump administration has pushed for changes in trade law, Randal Quarles of the Fed has been installed as chair of the Financial Stability Board, the network of networks that keeps everything moving. The Obama administration tried to get a Basel-like process into its trade deals, and issued an executive order encouraging agencies to harmonize regulations.
Moreover, since the financial crisis, regulators have doubled down on these networks, adding political oversight from the G-20, a middle manager in the FSB, and standardizing notice and comment rulemaking at the network level. That, I think, makes the whole scheme look increasingly like a cross-border bureaucracy. After all, American agencies make policy through notice and comment rulemaking overseen by career regulators overseen by political leaders. So too Basel, IOSCO, IAIS, and the other networks.
Friday, January 24, 2020
On January 17, I headed to the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business to be a discussant at the Huber Hurst Seminar. A great event! On the same day, Randal K. Quarles, the Vice Chair for Supervision (a position created by Dodd-Frank) and Governor of the Federal Reserve System gave a speech, Spontaneity and Order: Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Bank Supervision, at the 2020 American Bar Association Banking Committee Meeting. Legal scholars have focused scant attention on bank supervision in the past, but this is starting to change. It can be a challenging area to work in as Wharton Assistant Professor Peter Conti-Brown explains in The curse of confidential supervisory information. Indeed, confidential supervisory information is protected from disclosure with criminal penalties.
Bank regulation (which has received a bit more attention) and bank supervision, though linked concepts, are distinct. Supervision “implements the regulatory framework.” An important tension exists in banking supervision. In his speech, Quarles explains that “We have a public interest in a confidential, tailored, rapid-acting and closely informed system of bank supervision. And we have a public interest in all governmental processes being fair, predictable, efficient, and accountable. How do we square this circle?” It’s an important question. Quarles terms it “a complex and consequential issue that, for decades now, has received far too little attention from practitioners, academics, policymakers and the public.”
Quarles’ speech makes several suggestions regarding “some obvious and immediate ways that supervision can become more transparent, efficient, and effective.” To improve transparency, he makes three proposals: 1) “create a word-searchable database on the Board’s website with the historical interpretations by the Board and its staff of all significant rules,” 2) “putting significant supervisory guidance out for public comment,” and 3) “submitting significant supervisory guidance to Congress for purposes of the Congressional Review Act.”
All three proposals strike me as reasonable. What would be the drawback of the Board making interpretations of significant rules transparent and easily accessible? Regulatory guidance, as opposed to rules, is not legally binding. Yet in reality, there may be no difference in practice. I’d welcome both additional public comment on significant supervisory guidance and review by Congress. However, it’s also critical that a variety of stakeholders, especially academics, policymakers, and the public, actively participate in these processes.
Tuesday, December 24, 2019
Happy holidays! Billions of people around the world are celebrating Christmas or Hanukah right now. Perhaps you’re even reading this post on a brand new Apple Ipad, a Microsoft Surface, or a Dell Computer. Maybe you found this post via a Google search. If you use a product manufactured by any of those companies or drive a Tesla, then this post is for you. Last week, a nonprofit organization filed the first lawsuit against the world’s biggest tech companies alleging that they are complicit in child trafficking and deaths in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dodd-Frank §1502 and the upcoming EU Conflict Minerals Regulation, which goes into effect in 2021, both require companies to disclose the efforts they have made to track and trace "conflict minerals" -- tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold from the DRC and surrounding countries. DRC is one of the poorest nations in the world per capita but has an estimated $25 trillion in mineral reserves (including 65% of the world's cobalt). Armed militia use rape and violence as a weapon of war in part so that they control the mineral wealth. The EU and US regulators believe that consumers might make different purchasing decisions if they knew whether companies source their minerals ethically. The EU legislation, notably, does not limit the geography to the DRC, but instead focuses on conflict zones around the world.
If you’ve read my posts before, then you know that I have written repeatedly about the DRC and conflict minerals. After visiting DRC for a research trip in 2011, I wrote a law review article and co-filed an amicus brief during the §1502 litigation arguing that the law would not help people on the ground. I have also blogged here about legislation to end the rule, here about the EU's version of the rule, and here about the differences between the EU and US rule. Because of the law and pressure from activists and socially-responsible investors, companies, including the defendants, have filed disclosures, joined voluntary task forces to clean up supply chains, and responded to shareholder proposals regarding conflict minerals for years. I will have more on those initiatives in my next post. Interestingly, cobalt, the subject of the new litigation, is not a “conflict mineral” under either the U.S. or E.U. regulation, although, based on the rationale behind enacting Dodd-Frank §1502, perhaps it should have been. Nonetheless, in all of my research, I never came across any legislative history or materials discussing why cobalt was excluded.
The litigation makes some startling claims, but having been to the DRC, I’m not surprised. I’ve seen children who should have been in school, but could not afford to attend, digging for minerals with shovels and panning for gold in rivers. Although I was not allowed in the mines during my visit because of a massacre in the village the night before, I could still see child laborers on the side of the road mining. If you think mining is dangerous here in the U.S., imagine what it’s like in a poor country with a corrupt government dependent on income from multinationals.
The seventy-nine page class action Complaint was filed filed in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of thirteen children claiming: (1) a violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008; (2) unjust enrichment; (3) negligent supervision; and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress. I’ve listed some excerpts from the Complaint below (hyperlinks added):
Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla are knowingly benefiting from and providing substantial support to this “artisanal” mining system in the DRC. Defendants know and have known for a significant period of time the reality that DRC’s cobalt mining sector is dependent upon children, with males performing the most hazardous work in the primitive cobalt mines, including tunnel digging. These boys are working under stone age conditions for paltry wages and at immense personal risk to provide cobalt that is essential to the so-called “high tech” sector, dominated by Defendants and other companies. For the avoidance of doubt, every smartphone, tablet, laptop, electric vehicle, or other device containing a lithium-ion rechargeable battery requires cobalt in order to recharge. Put simply, the hundreds of billions of dollars generated by the Defendants each year would not be possible without cobalt mined in the DRC….
Plaintiffs herein are representative of the child cobalt miners, some as young as six years of age, who work in exceedingly harsh, hazardous, and toxic conditions that are on the extreme end of “the worst forms of child labor” prohibited by ILO Convention No. 182. Some of the child miners are also trafficked. Plaintiffs and the other child miners producing cobalt for Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla typically earn 2-3 U.S. dollars per day and, remarkably, in many cases even less than that, as they perform backbreaking and hazardous work that will likely kill or maim them. Based on indisputable research, cobalt mined in the DRC is listed on the U.S. Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau’s List of Goods Produced with Forced and Child Labor.
When I mentioned above that I wasn’t surprised about the allegations, I mean that I wasn’t surprised that the injuries and deaths occur based on what I saw during my visit to DRC. I am surprised that companies that must perform due diligence in their supply chains for conflict minerals don’t perform the same kind of due diligence in the cobalt mines. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised at all, given how many companies have stated that they cannot be sure of the origins of their minerals. In my next post, I will discuss what the companies say they are doing, what they are actually doing, and how the market has reacted to the litigation. What I do know for sure is that the Apple store at the mall nearest to me was so crowded that people could not get in. The mall also has a Tesla showroom and people were gearing up for test drives. Does that mean that consumers are not aware of the allegations? Or does that mean that they don’t care? I’ll discuss that in the next post as well.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season.
December 24, 2019 in Compliance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Litigation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)