The top U.S. financial risk watchdog on Wednesday pledged more transparency in procedures it uses to designate firms as super-risky, a promise that followed a flood of criticism from insurers and asset managers that it was too opaque.
Staff launched a number of proposals at a meeting of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), a group of regulators that acts to identify which parts of the financial system are “too big to fail” and would threaten the overall system if they landed in trouble.
The proposals would change some of the procedures under which the council singles out financial firms as “systemically important,” and in need of closer regulatory scrutiny by the Federal Reserve.
“The intent of these proposed changes is to let companies know as soon as possible where they stand,” said Patrick Pinschmidt, the FSOC’s deputy assistant secretary.
The FSOC said it will consider changes to tell firms at an earlier stage when they are being weighed for designation, and also to tell the broader public sooner in the process which firms it had in its cross-hairs.
Finally, it said it would consider possible changes to improve the annual re-evaluation of its designations.
The acknowledgement that the process could be improved comes at a critical time, as insurer MetLife this month filed a lawsuit against the FSOC after it was designated as a systemically important firm. MetLife says it does not deserve that tag.
“The proposed changes are steps in the right direction,” said Aaron Klein, a former Treasury official now at the Bipartisan Policy Center, who has studied the issue.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who presides over the FSOC, said that he wanted to make a decision about the changes “in the near future or no later than our next meeting.”
The council was set up after the 2007-09 financial meltdown and groups together the country’s top regulators. It was given the power, under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law, to designate firms as systemically important and in need of tougher oversight, even if they are not banks.
MetLife became the third insurer to be designated, after Prudential and AIG.
It was doubtful whether the changes will be enough for some of FSOC’s critics.
“I continue to have concerns about FSOC’s designation process and its lack of understanding regarding the business model of non-bank entities,” said Representative Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican.