US regulator wants banks to spell out risk appetites

WASHINGTON Thu Jan 16, 2014 10:00am EST

WASHINGTON Jan 16 (Reuters) - A U.S. bank regulator on Thursday proposed tougher standards for big national banks that would require executives to spell out their firms' risk appetites and would boost oversight by their boards of directors.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued the guidelines as part of its "heightened expectations" program for the biggest U.S. banks.

Regulators have come under intense scrutiny for not cracking down on dangerous activity that fueled the 2007-2009 financial crisis. Lawmakers and consumer groups have blamed the OCC in particular for letting banks take major risks without much oversight.

OCC officials have since tried to boost scrutiny of the banks they regulate.

"The standards announced today build on lessons learned from the financial crisis," Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said in a statement. "They will contribute to a safer financial system for all of us by providing clear and enforceable standards for the risk management and governance of our largest institutions."

Officials said the proposed requirements would apply to national banks with more than $50 billion in assets. The agency could apply the standards to smaller firms that officials deem particularly risky.

Under the standards, bank executives would need to detail their firms' willingness to take risks, including quantitative limits. Boards of directors, which would include at least two members from outside the bank, would ensure the risk framework was effective and that management followed it.

Boards also should challenge or oppose decisions by bank managers that could threaten the banks' safety, the OCC said.

Firms that failed to meet the tougher standards would have to craft a plan to comply and could eventually be subject to OCC enforcement action, the agency said.

The OCC said it will take comments on the proposed changes for 60 days.