Senators File Bipartisan Bill To Claw Back Pay From Failed Bank Executives

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) teamed up on a bill that suggests there could be a bipartisan response to recent bank failures.

WASHINGTON ― A bipartisan group of senators have introduced legislation that would give regulators more power to confiscate bonuses from executives at failed financial institutions like Silicon Valley Bank.

The bill follows a recommendation from President Joe Biden that Congress change the law to claw back executive pay from failed bank bosses and make it easier for the government to ban them from the banking industry.

Executives at Silicon Valley Bank, which regulators closed after it was unable to honor withdrawal requests from panicked depositors who realized the bank was in trouble, reportedly sold $84 million worth of stock in the last two years. And financial disclosures show that Silicon Valley Bank CEO Greg Becker sold millions in stock shortly before the bank failed. (BuzzFeed, HuffPost’s parent company, banked with SVB.)

On Wednesday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) filed a bill that would require the federal government to claw back salary and performance-based compensation, like bonuses and stock awards, paid to bank executives over five years preceding a failure.

The bill text says the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would have to take away as much compensation “as is necessary to prevent unjust enrichment and assure that the party bears losses” consistent with their role in the bank’s failure.

“Americans are sick and tired of fat cat bankers paying themselves handsomely while risking other people’s hard earned money,” Warren said in a statement.

The FDIC, one of the federal bank regulators that stepped in to guarantee Silicon Valley Bank’s deposits, already has some power to punish bank executives. FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg told lawmakers this week that the FDIC would look into civil money penalties and a possible prohibition on executives like Becker working in the financial industry.

The White House said earlier this month that the FDIC’s existing powers aren’t strong enough, and called on Congress to change the law.

Punishing bank executives may be the only response to the recent bank failures that can garner bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Warren has said Congress ought to repeal a 2018 law that loosened financial regulations and set the stage for the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in New York. The Republicans and Democrats who supported the deregulation have insisted it had nothing to do with the bank failures.

The 2018 law, a rollback of regulations enacted after the 2008 financial crisis, freed medium-sized banks from various forms of federal oversight, including liquidity stress testing and hiring a chief risk officer. Silicon Valley Bank had no chief risk officer for eight months, and it lacked the liquidity ― i.e., cash ― that it would have needed to honor a crush of withdrawal requests.

The Congressional Budget Office told lawmakers at the time that weakening regulations would increase the risk of bank failures.

Having bipartisan backing makes it more likely that the Failed Bank Executives Clawback Act of 2023 could make it through both the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House, but it’s not clear if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) or House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would prioritize the legislation.

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