Banking & Finance Law Report

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The Eleventh Circuit Holds That the National Bank Act Preempts State-Law Whistleblower Claims by Terminated National Bank Officers

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit just recently held that an officer of a nationally-chartered bank regulated by the National Bank Act (NBA) had no claim for wrongful termination under a Florida whistleblower statute.  According to the federal court, the state-law whistleblower claims were preempted by 12 U.S.C. § 24 (Fifth) of the NBA, which gives a national bank the power to dismiss bank officers “at the pleasure” of the board of directors.  Consistent with decisions by other federal circuits, the Eleventh Circuit interpreted “at the pleasure” to be equivalent to at-will employment and held that the Florida whistleblower statute at issue was preempted because, contrary to the nature of at-will employment, it prohibited dismissal of an employee for complaining about certain improper activities by an employer.  Further, there was no comparable employment protection in federal law (e.g., Title VII) that would indicate congressional intent not to preempt the Florida statute through 12 U.S.C. § 24 (Fifth) of the NBA.  This is a useful employment law decision for national banks that helps preserve their freedom to employ, or not employ, their officers as they see fit and avoid certain types of miscellaneous wrongful termination lawsuits under … Continue Reading

Volcker Alliance Report Ignores Community Banks (For The Most Part)

There is much to like in the recently released report of the Volcker Alliance.  Unfortunately, however, there is little discussion of those banking institutions commonly referred to as community banks.

At roughly the same time last month, the Independent Community Bankers Association of America highlighted in a press release the importance of community banks in helping small businesses gain financial stability.  The release said there are roughly:

6,000 community banks, including commercial banks, thrifts, stock and mutual savings institutions. Assets may range from less than $10 million to $10 billion or more. Across the nation, community banks operate 52,000 locations, employ 700,000 Americans and hold $3.6 trillion in assets, $2.9 trillion in deposits and $2.4 trillion in loans to consumers, small businesses and the agricultural community.

The relative unimportance of the community banking industry, notwithstanding employment of roughly 700,000 people, to those who prepared the Volcker Alliance report on regulatory reform suggests just how concentrated in large banking organizations the financial services industry has become following the Great Recession.  The draftsmen just had bigger fish to fry.… Continue Reading

FDIC Guidance on Brokered Deposits

Late last year, the FDIC released guidance on brokered deposits in the form of a series of frequently asked questions and answers (FAQs).  The guidance is available here: https://www.fdic.gov/news/news/financial/2015/fil15002a.pdf

The ostensible purpose of the guidance is to collect previously scattered views on various questions related to two primary subjects: what are brokered deposits and how they should be reflected on bank call reports. Brokered deposits impact assessments for deposit insurance.  For some institutions, the FAQs may have little impact but for others the FAQs will be important and required reading.

Although the FDIC called the release “guidance,” some commentators have suggested the material contains the first expression by the agency on a number of issues, including in particular further discussion on an important exception to the definition of deposit broker, the so-called “primary purpose exception” discussed below.… Continue Reading

UPDATE: FDIC joins in on IOLTAs for CRA consideration

Editor’s Note: This post was prepared by Susan A. Choe, Deputy Director & General Counsel, The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.

As an update to our guest blog post of April 10, 2014, the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation is pleased to report that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will join the Ohio Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Board of Cleveland, in reviewing on a case-by-case basis interest paid above market rates on Ohio IOLTAs (interest on lawyer trust accounts) for potential positive CRA consideration.… Continue Reading

CIP To Cover Small Business Ownership And Control

It has been an active couple of weeks for FinCEN from a regulatory pronouncement perspective. For example, FinCEN has proposed a regulation to amend existing “know your customer” rules for certain financial institutions to require the verification of beneficial owners of legal entities. Legal entities in this context would mean corporations, partnerships or similar business entities. Public companies, regulated entities and trusts other than business and statutory trusts, would not be covered.

In addition, FinCEN issued an advisory for financial institutions on the importance of a “culture of compliance” with respect to BSA/AML. The guidance had these suggestions based on recent enforcement actions: ensure leadership that supports compliance; don’t mitigate BSA/AML efforts in light of revenue considerations; operating departments must share with compliance staff BSA/AML information; the organization must devote adequate resources to BSA/AML compliance; BSA/AML compliance should be tested by an independent party and the organization’s leadership and staff should understand the purpose and use of BSA/AML reporting. FIN-2014-A007 is available here.

FinCEN’s proposal to amend existing “know your customer” rules requires a financial institution would have to identify each individual who directly or indirectly own 25% or more of the equity and one individual who has responsibility … Continue Reading

Covered affirmative action employers — more scary news from the OFCCP

On August 6, 2014, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) announced a proposed rule that should be of real concern to covered affirmative action federal contractors. The OFCCP is the agency that enforces federal affirmative action laws. If the proposed rule is adopted, it will add compensation data to the information that covered employers must submit with their annual EEO-1 reports. Keep in mind the “web” of coverage under affirmative action laws reaches far. Coverage is triggered not just by direct federal contracts but also by contracts to provide goods or services to any private sector entity, as long as those goods or services are used in connection with fulfilling some federal contract that your customer or their customers may have. Coverage of financial institutions is triggered by being a depository for federal funds or by being an issuing or paying agent for U.S. Savings Bonds or Notes. Coverage issues and obligations can vary with the dollar volume of the covered work.

The Specifics:

What:

Currently, the annual EEO-1 report contains race, ethnicity, and gender information about your workplace, sorted by nine EEO job-type categories. The proposed rule would expand the report to include the following information for … Continue Reading

FDIC Guidance on Agricultural Credits

At a time of relative affluence in the farming industry, the FDIC has issued a warning on a need for monitoring agricultural credits. FIL-39-2014 (July 16, 2014) suggests that banking institutions of all sizes should carefully consider a recent, negative projection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While current market conditions are good, the projection suggests there will be a slowdown in the growth of the farming and livestock sectors and that agriculture may be affected by adverse weather and declining land values, among other factors.

The guidance suggests that financial institutions should work carefully with agricultural borrowers when they experience financial difficulties. The guidance states that the FDIC’s supervisory expectations previously expressed in a 2010 financial institution letter continue (although the letter is rescinded in light of the current letter).

Cash flow analysis, secondary repayment sources and collateral support levels must be considered in order to properly analyze agricultural credits, according to the guidance.

The guidance notes that smaller farms and ranches rely on the personal wealth and resources of the owners, including off-farm wages. A universal review of the financial strength of the credit is required.

The guidance also notes workout strategies must be specifically tailored for agricultural … Continue Reading

Personal Liability, Bank Directors and the Business Judgment Rule

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 … Continue Reading

Intellectual Property and Banking – The Complications of Distinguishing Your Bank Name

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 … Continue Reading

Risk Management and In-house Bank Lawyers

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, … Continue Reading

Banking & Finance Law Report Top 10: News and Trends from 2013

2013 was an active year for the Banking & Finance Law Report. Our authors covered a wide range of topics — from legislative and regulatory changes to court opinions to financing and bankruptcy matters in the healthcare, agricultural and oil and gas industries. To offer a glimpse into the news and trends of the past year, following is a synopsis of the 10 best-read articles of 2013.

1. Major Changes to Affirmative Action Requirements Become Effective March 24, 2014
by Mike Underwood

In just two months, financial institute and other types of employers will need to comply with new affirmative action rules that:

  • Require employers to gather and retain data showing the results of their recruiting and hiring efforts and to set numeric targets for hiring veterans and disabled persons
  • Include significant additional obligations for reviewing, analyzing and documenting good-faith efforts and results
  • Specify that employers must offer applicants the opportunity to self-identify as a covered veteran or disabled person before a job offer occurs

Many employers may face a real challenge identifying and networking with recruiting sources that can refer qualified candidates for their businesses. They also will likely need to adjust data collection, retention, and analysis processes. Read Continue Reading

Some Big Picture Links

At year-end, when there may be more time and inclination for busy bank executives (and their counsel) to consider the big picture, a look at financial research from your federal bank regulators may provide insight and food for thought. As a place to start, here are two recent examples.

The first is a research project that was devoted to stress tests, and in particular, the use of stress testing in conjunction with the Basel III capital reforms. See Wall, Measuring Capital Adequacy Supervisory Stress Tests in a Basel World, Working Paper 2013-15 (December 2013).

The second is the transcription of a speech describing a modelling project focused on why, from a theoretical point of view, bank balance sheets are constructed the way they are. See Stein, Banks as Patient Debt Investors, given at the American Economic Association/American Finance Association Joint Luncheon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (January 3, 2014).… Continue Reading

Regulatory Guidance on the Classification of Investment Securities Without Reliance on Credit Ratings

Recently, the primary federal bank regulators took the latest step in the long and winding road toward the replacement of credit ratings in the analysis of investment securities by insured financial institutions. You will recall this process began with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act in July 2010 that, in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, required government regulators of all types to deemphasize the role of credit ratings from the traditional credit rating firms.

The three primary federal bank regulators — the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — in November issued regulatory guidance in the form of an agreement among themselves regarding the appropriate approach to the asset classification of investment securities for regulatory purposes. The guidance applies to national banks, state-chartered banks, and state- and federally-chartered savings associations, and supersedes previous guidance from 2004.… Continue Reading

Ohio Financial Institutions Tax – Draft Regulations

The Ohio Department of Taxation recently released draft administrative regulations (the “Regulations”) designed to implement the new Ohio financial institutions tax. The new tax takes effect Jan. 1, 2014 and replaces the corporation franchise tax and dealers in intangible tax, which financial institutions have historically paid in Ohio.

The Regulations state that the tax has been designed based upon two fundamental concepts:

  1. The tax return will be reported on a consolidated basis at the highest level of ownership rather than on a separate entity basis.
  2. The equity of the consolidated reporting group will be based upon generally accepted accounting principles reported to the appropriate federal regulatory agency rather than on a federal income tax basis.

The most significant aspects of the Regulations deal with how financial institutions will file tax returns to pay the tax. Bank organizations that are owned through a holding company structure will report the equity of the holding company and all of the entities over which the bank holding company exercises significant influence on a form called an “FR Y-9.” A financial institution that is required to file the FR Y-9C pursuant to Federal Reserve Board regulations will instead report the total equity capital from its … Continue Reading

Basel III Capital Rules and Community Banks

When the new capital rules were issued this summer, there was no dearth of comment and analysis. The federal banking regulators took pains to emphasize how community bankers were treated and much of the 971 page release parsed the distinctions between “advanced approaches” organizations and community banks.

In general, the basic conclusion is that the community banks could have done much worse, although there are a number of critical concerns that remain. Here is an outline of how some of the important issues under the final Basel III Rules were resolved:… Continue Reading

Hot topics affecting your bank

From time to time we deviate from our normal prose on the banking and finance industry and give you, our reader, insight into other areas of the law that impact your business. A recent post regarding overhauling the Ohio employee-friendly employment discrimination law, Senate Bill 383, tops our list of quality reading material.

The post, ‘Senate Bill 383 is an Ohio employer’s wish list,’ from our Employer Law Report blog discusses significant amendments introduced to the Ohio Senate. In particular, Sara Hutchins Jodka goes into detail portions of the bill including defining employers to exclude managers and supervisors, limiting the statue of limitations to 365 days for discrimination and retaliation claims and put a statutory cap on noneconomic and punitive damages.… Continue Reading

Dodd-Frank Act Anniversary

In July the second anniversary of the signing of the Dodd-Frank Act passed, giving community bankers an opportunity to consider where things stand. For some banking institutions, particularly larger ones, it has been an active two years even though at least half of the regulatory requirements of the Act remain to be finalized. For smaller institutions, as will become clear, the action appears to be just beginning.

The sweeping overall scope of the Act is underscored when one considers there have been significant delays to much of the parts and pieces of the regulatory actions required under the Act. Yet much has been done.  According to various reports, there have been more than 100 finalized regulations under the Act and, there has been public comment requested on nearly as many significant proposals. 

The most critical regulations for smaller financial institutions are those proposed in recent months: new regulations on capital adequacy and new consumer lending regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the formation of which is thought to be one of central accomplishments of the Act.… Continue Reading

FFIEC Statement on Outsourced Cloud Computing

Financial institutions should apply the same risk management strategies and considerations to outsourced "cloud computing" activities as are required with more traditional forms of outsourcing, according to a statement issued July 10th by the Federal Financial Institution Examination Counsel (FFIEC).

The FFIEC’s statement explains that while there is no universal definition of "cloud computing," it generally involves a migration from owned resources to shared resources, through which a user can access and receive information technology services on demand from third-parties via the online "cloud." Cloud computing can be used to provide infrastructure, computing platforms, and software, and a cloud may be operated privately by one organization, as a community cloud shared by several organizations, as a public cloud available to any paying customer, or as a hybrid combination of two or more private, community or public clouds.

Although a financial institution’s use of outsourced cloud computing can have many potential benefits, such as cost reduction, flexibility and speed, the FFIEC statement indicates that the fundamentals of risk and risk management defined in the FFIEC Information Technology Examination Handbook (IT Handbook), particularly the Outsourcing Technology Services Booklet (Outsourcing Booklet), are as applicable to cloud computing as to other forms of … Continue Reading

Operating Subsidiaries – Protecting the Bank When Taking Title to Real Estate

With certain limitations, a bank may own real estate it acquires by foreclosure, conveyance in lieu of foreclosure, or other legal proceedings in satisfaction of a debt previously contracted. Ownership of such property can create potential liability for the bank in a number of ways, though most commonly from personal injuries which occur on the property (another possibility with the potential to be very costly is environmental liability). While insurance can mitigate much of this risk, it has its limitations and a bank has options to be further protected.

One way to mitigate the risk is for a bank to own such property in an operating subsidiary wholly owned by the bank. Ownership of the property in an operating subsidiary would help limit the liability exposure to the assets of the subsidiary and protect the bank itself. Thus, the bank’s income and assets from other activities are insulated from the risks associated with property ownership. While common for large banks, many small banks do not have this level of protection in place, often because of the administrative burden associated with establishing a wholly owned subsidiary.

Under Ohio law, establishing an operating subsidiary requires a bank to submit a letter of … Continue Reading

CFPB Releases Examination Manual

In October, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published its first supervision examination manual which will be of interest to bankers and other financial service executives.

On one level, the manual is fairly pedestrian and may contain little surprising in that most bankers have a fairly extensive appreciation of (and experience with) an examination process. And, of course, the Bureau has direct supervisory authority only over the roughly 100 large banks, thrifts, and credit unions that have assets more than $10 billion.

What should be interesting to many bankers, however, is the insight the Manual provides into the examination approach of the Bureau, an approach that will doubtlessly influence and inform the practices and procedures of all other financial institution regulators, large and small. Essentially, the Manual describes the Bureau’s process for risk assessment: first there will be the establishment of the inherent risk of a particular "product" line for consumers and then there will be an assessment of an entity’s set of quality controls to manage and mitigate the risks.… Continue Reading

New Interim Final Rule Governing Garnishment of Accounts-76 Fed. Reg. (Feb. 23, 2011) (to be codified at 31 C.F.R. pt. 212)

A new interim federal rule effective May 1, 2011 protects from garnishment a portion of certain federal benefits direct-deposited into judgment debtor’s account within two months of the garnishment. The interim rule requires banks, credit unions and other financial institutions to change the way they process and respond to garnishments of accounts containing federal benefits, including Social Security benefits, SSI benefits, Civil Service Retirement benefits, Federal Employee Retirement Systems, VA benefits and Federal Railroad retirement, unemployment and sickness benefits. The interim rule does not protect from garnishment federal benefits paid into a judgment debtor’s account by check, cash, money order or other non-direct deposits, and the interim rule preempts inconsistent State or local garnishment laws and exempts certain federal and state child support garnishments.

The interim rule addresses the common practice of financial institutions that freeze a judgment debtor’s account in response to a garnishment without examining whether the account contains exempt federal benefit payments. This practice can leave judgment debtors who receive federal benefits without income or the ability to meet their immediate financial needs.… Continue Reading

Patent Reform and Financial Institutions

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed (95–5) the America Invents Act (formerly titled the Patent Reform Act of 2011) (S.23 or AIA), on March 8, 2011. This legislation represents a major patent reform initiative and is quite possibly the most significant patent reform since the 1952 Patent Act. This legislation could have significant impact on financial institutions.

The headline change ofthe AIA is that a patent would be awarded to the first-to-file a patent application rather than to the first-to-invent the invention. This should favor large financial institutions who are regularly active in patenting innovations because they will have the resources and systems in place to win a race to the patent office. Small financial institutions or those not regularly active in patenting innovations will need to adapt to more quickly react to their innovations or risk losing the race. Perhaps a more significant impact on financial institutions due to this change is that the first-to-file system makes prior users vulnerable to patent infringement. A financial institution can use an innovation for years as a trade secret and then be liable for patent infringement when another party patents that innovation. This could be very problematic in the financial industry which has largely considered its business methods and … Continue Reading

Whistleblowing Galore Under the Dodd-Frank Act

Congress’ recent passage and President Obama’s signing of the “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act” provides significant incentives for financial industry whistleblowers to assist the government root out fraudulent practices and other unlawful conduct in the industry. Supporters of the Dodd-Frank Act are praising its expansive whistleblower protections as a necessary good corporate-citizen tool to help the government ensure a financial crisis like 2008 never happens again.

Under the Dodd-Frank Act, whistleblowers in publicly traded companies are provided significant personal financial incentives to disclose to the SEC “original” information concerning securities laws violations occurring within their companies. “Original” information means the information must be derived from the whistleblower’s independent knowledge or analysis and cannot be known to the SEC from any other source. The available financial reward — or “bounty” — available to a qualifying whistleblower will range from 10% to 30% of any financial recovery in excess of $1,000,000 that the SEC obtains from the targeted corporation, including the amount of any penalties, disgorgement and interest.… Continue Reading

Wall Street Reform Legislation Requires Public Companies to Revise Clawback Policies

On July 21, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Act”). Although the Act focuses primarily on the financial industry, the Act contains a section that requires the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to publish rules that direct the national securities exchanges and associations to prohibit the listing of any security of an issuer that does not develop and implement an appropriate clawback policy.

Specifically, a clawback policy must provide that an issuer that is required to restate its financial statements because of a material financial reporting violation must recover from certain executive officers the amount in excess of what would have been paid to them under the issuer’s restated financial statements. No showing of misconduct or negligence on the part of the affected executives is required. In other words, public companies must recover the excess, if any, between the actual pay-out under the original financial statements and the amount payable under the restated financial statements. This policy must apply to any current or former executive officer who received incentive-based compensation (including stock options) during the three-year period preceding the date on which the restatement is required. The Act also requires … Continue Reading

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