Treasury nominee says bank regulations won't work for insurance firms
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's nominee to serve as deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary told lawmakers on Wednesday she believes that large systemically important insurance companies should not face the same capital rules as banks.
"A one-size-fits-all approach is not going to work here," Sarah Bloom Raskin told the Senate Finance Committee during her confirmation hearing.
"Insurance companies have a very different set of asset liability structures than do banks. And to regulate them in terms of a one-size-fits-all approach is not going to be an effective form of supervision or regulation in my experience."
Raskin's views on the subject will be crucial for General Electric Co's (GE.N) GE Capital, American International Group Inc (AIG.N) and Prudential Financial Inc (PRU.N), which earlier this year were all designated by the U.S. risk council as "systemically important" - a tag that carries new capital requirements and supervision by the Federal Reserve.
Those three companies are still waiting to see how their recent designations by the Financial Stability Oversight Council, or FSOC, will exactly work.
As number two in command at the Treasury Department, Raskin will have a lot of influence on policy decisions before the FSOC, a body of regulators chaired by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
The FSOC was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law to police for systemic risks in the marketplace.
It has the power to classify large firms whose failure could threaten financial markets as "systemically important financial institutions" or SIFIs.
Certain large banks, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N)and Citigroup Inc (C.N) automatically received the SIFI designation.
The insurance companies are the only three non-banks so far to be hit with the costly SIFI tag, and the designation process has been met with some controversy.
In voting to designate Prudential, the FSOC's independent insurance member Roy Woodall and Edward DeMarco, the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, both dissented.
Prudential also initially tried to contest the designation and requested a hearing to ask the panel to reconsider.
Last month, however, Prudential decided not to appeal in a federal court, saying it would accept its fate as a SIFI.
Raskin's comments about how the insurance companies should be regulated came in response to questions from New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, whose state is home to Prudential's corporate headquarters.
Menendez told Raskin he wanted to "make sure that capital standards applied to insurance companies are properly tailored."
Raskin, who most recently served on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, told Menendez he was "dead on" and said that "fortunately the Federal Reserve has not gone ahead" and regulated the firms like banks.
She added that the FSOC members with insurance expertise will be able to offer "good insights" into how the new regulatory regime should be tailored.
Raskin did not receive any questions or offer any thoughts on whether large asset managers like Blackrock (BLK.N) or Fidelity should be next in line for FSOC designation.
The council is currently mulling whether large asset managers pose risks to the system, and the industry has been staunchly lobbying any potential designations.
(Reporting by Jason Lange and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Andrew Hay)
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