WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Wanted: Skilled executives willing to take over large, failing U.S. financial firms at a moment’s notice.
Among the issues facing U.S. regulators as they work through how they would use new powers to seize and liquidate a large U.S. bank, or other big financial firm, is who could run the institution as it goes through the process.
On Wednesday it was a question the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. put to an advisory committee it has set up to help the agency work through its responsibility to liquidate a stumbling financial giant.
Agency officials asked if a pool of candidates could be established.
The committee response? That will be difficult to do.
“You should not assume there are a lot of people out there that will actually have the background and the willingness to step into what is obviously a very high profile disaster,” said John Koskinen, who has been the non-executive chairman of Freddie Mac since the government took it over in September 2008.
Some suggested looking at executives at the top tiers of large banks who may feel they will not become a head honcho any time soon and would welcome an opportunity to show off their management skills.
Some panel members said the list of those in the CEO pool should be made public.
Former Citigroup (C.N) Chairman John Reed warned against the idea.
“I cannot imagine somebody with the confidence you are looking for being willing to be publicly identified,” he said.
The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law gives the government the authority to take over and liquidate large, troubled banks and other financial companies whose failure would deal a major blow to financial markets.
The idea is to avoid a repeat of massive government bailouts during the 2007-2009 financial crisis, such as the taxpayer support for insurer AIG (AIG.N), and destructive bankruptcies like Lehman Brothers (LEHMQ.PK).
The FDIC would run the liquidation and former agency chairman Sheila Bair created the advisory committee last year.
The 19-member committee includes former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, former Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn and former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson.
FDIC officials said that if a failed institution is taken over they will have to move quickly to find a new CEO and board members because Dodd-Frank requires the government to get rid of executives who are “culpable” for the failure.
The idea is these new executives will help make decisions on how to liquidate the firm and help form whatever entity may come out on the other end of the process.
Also on Wednesday, panel members and FDIC officials said they now believe one of the biggest challenges they face in winding down a failing firm - coordination globally of farflung foreign operations - will not be as difficult as many analysts have predicted.
A key concern is how U.S. regulators will be able to coordinate the takedown of a U.S. financial giant with regulators in countries where the institution also has operations.
The worry has been that the red tape and different laws involved will make it hard to smoothly liquidate a firm and keep its failure from roiling financial markets.
On Wednesday, however, FDIC staff said its research shows that large U.S. banks’ operations abroad are mostly overseen by only one to three foreign governments with much of the activity occurring in the United Kingdom.
Panel members said this would make coordinating how to take down a large firm easier than expected.
“If you get agreement with the UK you got it,” Volcker said.
Regulators have been trying to convince financial markets that under Dodd-Frank large U.S. banks cannot be bailed out and that they will be liquidated if they run into trouble.
Market participants remain skeptical and banks perceived as “too big to fail” still enjoy cheaper funding costs than their smaller competitors because of the assumed government backstop.
Prominent Wall Street bank lawyer Rodgin Cohen, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, said the new research released on Wednesday is significant because it will help remove one argument for why a liquidation would not work and consequently why bailouts are still likely.
“If you have to reach an accommodating with 50 countries that is difficult,” he said. “If you have to reach an accommodation or an understanding with one or at most five or six it becomes infinitely easier.”
Cohen is also a member of the advisory committee.
Reporting By Dave Clarke