JACKSON HOLE, WYO., AUG. 21 -- A Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. staff study has concluded that many current restrictions on bank ownership and activities could be eliminated without jeopardizing the banks' safety and soundness, FDIC Chairman L. William Seidman said today.
With a relatively small increase in the number of bank examiners and some new legal authority to audit certain banking transactions, commercial corporations could safely be allowed to own banks, Seidman said. At the same time the banks could have new powers, such as handling securities transactions, he said.
Seidman spoke at a conference here on restructuring the nation's financial system. The conference was sponsored by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank.
The FDIC provides deposit insurance on accounts up to $100,000 at commercial and mutual savings banks and examines banks in that connection.
Seidman said the "heart of the study" deals with whether, if the restrictions on ownership and activities were dropped, regulators could "build an effective supervisory wall around the bank, no matter who owns it. ... If a 'wall' can be built, direct regulatory or supervisory authority over nonbanking affiliates or even bank owners is not necessary.
"This is a question that has long puzzled and fascinated economic theorists and lawmakers, the generals and aides who rule the battlefield of banking law," Seidman said. "But I thought it might be a good idea to consult some foot soldiers on the question -- the FDIC corps of bank supervisors."
That group believes that a wall is indeed "do-able," the FDIC chairman said.
Some opponents of allowing commercial entities to own banks, such as E. Gerald Corrigan, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, believe a supervisory wall would collapse if the commercial corporation parent got into serious enough financial trouble.
Seidman stressed that the issue of what group would supervise banks after a restructuring of the financial system was not addressed in the study.
Providing adequate supervision after the restrictions on ownership and activities were eliminated, he said, would require an increase in the number of FDIC examiners from the current 2,000 to "fewer than 2,500."
In addition, the present limits on transactions between banks and their nonbank affiliates should be maintained, he said. New authority to audit both sides of any transaction between a bank and its subsidiaries or affiliates also would be needed, he said.
Finally, any nonbanking activities should be housed outside the bank, he said.
With those changes, Seidman said, FDIC's bank supervisors believe an satisfactory wall could be constructed.