Last April, a trade association for bank directors, the American Association of Bank Directors reported the results of a survey designed to measure the impact of concerns about personal liability on the decision of bank board members to resign and by individuals to turn down board seats on banking organizations.
One of the key concerns, the survey highlighted, is the possibility of an FDIC lawsuit against the directors if a bank failure occurs. The fear was bank directors would be liable for decisions made as directors notwithstanding what is commonly referred to as the business judgment rule. Generally, the business judgment rule shields corporate directors, including bank directors, from liability when board decisions result in losses to the corporation or to shareholders.
The AABD mentioned in particular a then pending lawsuit in Georgia arising out of FDIC claims related to the failure of Buckhead Bank. These claims against the directors sounded in simple negligence regarding the making of loans. And the directors had asserted the business judgment as a defense.
A few days ago the Georgia Supreme Court ruled on the matter and the decision is worth a review by bank directors and managers even though they don’t do business in Georgia. The Georgia Supreme Court decision elegantly summarizes the business judgment rule including its history and common law origins. So the opinion is a useful “read” for bankers everywhere because the development of local jurisprudence in most states is likely similar to the process described in the opinion.
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Expansion of Banking: What happens when First National Bank is no longer First?
Ask any community banker and she will tell you that bank name disputes are on the rise. The Third Federal Circuit Court of Appeals attributes the rise of bank name disputes to “an outgrowth of aggressive and expansionist banking flowing from the Congressional liberalization… of national banking laws.” Citizens Financial Group, Inc., v. Citizens Nat’l Bank, 383 F.3d 110, 112 (3rd Cir. 2004). This case is one of many examples of disputes arising between two financial institutions, in similar geographic regions, operating under identical or a confusingly similar name (e.g., Citizens National Bank of Evans City and Citizens Financial Group, Inc.).
Today we are accustomed to large banks having developed into multinational corporations, such as JP Morgan Chase or Wells Fargo, but this growth occurred in most cases only in the late twentieth century. But the banking industry began with banks being purely local entities, the sole bank within a town or a smaller city as opposed to multi-branch banks within the same metropolis or state. For many banking organizations, this is still true. Within these towns, the use of names like First National Bank or Columbus City Bank were distinctive enough because that was the only show in town and everyone knew where they were banking. It was unlikely that another First National Bank two towns over would confuse or mislead consumers. The National Bank Act fostered the practice of bank names being rather undistinctive …
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In-house bank lawyers got a vote of confidence last week. The context was a comment submitted to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency regarding proposed enforceable guidelines on the risk management practices for the nation’s largest banks. Last January, the OCC proposed the guidelines and asked for comments. Previously, risk management practices suggested by the OCC have been largely precatory.
The proposed guidelines suggest minimum standards for the design and implementation of a risk governance framework. While the proposed guidelines would apply to banking organizations with consolidated assets equal to or greater than $50 billion, once they are effective, they will be influential regarding the risk management practices of smaller banks. The guidelines document (Docket ID OCC-2014-0001) is available here.
The overall goal of the proposal is to help banking institutions in “defining and communicating an acceptable risk appetite across the organization.” The measures should address such things as the capital, earnings, and liquidity that may be at risk on a firm-wide basis, the risk that may be taken in each line of business, and each key risk category monitored by the institution. A bank’s risk management practices should cover the following categories of risk: credit risk, interest rate risk, liquidity risk, price risk, operational risk, compliance risk, strategic risk, and reputation risk.
The proposed guidelines define some organizational units as “fundamental” to the risk management. These units are “front-line units, independent risk management, and internal audit.”
The comment on the role of in-house lawyers came from …
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