Speed Reads

'entirely avoidable'

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: 'I wish I'd been wrong' predicting SVB collapse

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote a scathing opinion essay for The New York Times on Monday, saying "we know who is responsible" for last week's stunning collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and ensuing financial fallout.

"In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to protect consumers and ensure that big banks could never again take down the economy and destroy millions of lives," wrote Warren, whose political reputation has been predicated in large part on fighting corporate greed. That law, however, was defanged in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump following intense lobbying pressure from various Wall Street and banking interests including, Warren pointed out, "Greg Becker, the chief executive of Silicon Valley Bank."

Indeed, one of the crucial rollbacks enacted by Trump was raising the threshold of how much money a bank possessed before it was considered "too big to fail" and thereby requiring certain regulatory oversight. Now sitting comfortably below the limit of $250 billion, SVB was therefore subject to fewer regulations over the past five years, leading to what Warren deemed "a toxic mix of risky management and weak supervision." This included relying largely on startups as its main batch of depositors — a move that left the bank particularly vulnerable to the economic flux of a single industry, rather than diversifying its stakeholder group. 

"Had Congress and the Federal Reserve not rolled back the stricter oversight," Warren said, Silicon Valley Bank "would have been subject to stronger liquidity and capital requirements to withstand financial shocks." And while the damage in this particular instance is done (although the Biden administration has vowed to cover deposit insurance above the usual $250,000 limit for bank customers), Warren nevertheless proposes a series of steps to prevent the next medium-size bank meltdown from occurring. Her suggestions include returning to Dodd-Frank-levels of regulation, amending deposit insurance rules to better protect payrolls and ordinary banking transactions, and — perhaps most importantly — ensuring that "those responsible not be rewarded" with the government empowered to not only "claw back" excessive executive bonuses, but also investigate potential civil and criminal lawbreaking on the part of those at the top of SVB. 

"These bank failures were entirely avoidable if Congress and the Fed had done their jobs and kept strong banking regulations in place since 2018," Warren concluded, warning "Washington must act quickly to prevent the next crisis."