Financial Services Alert - July 22, 2014 July 22, 2014
In This Issue

FDIC Proposes Rule to Revise Deposit Insurance Assessments to Reflect the Basel III Capital Rule

The FDIC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (the “Proposed Rule”) that would revise the FDIC’s risk-based deposit insurance assessment system to reflect the final Basel III capital rule (the “Final Capital Rule”) adopted by the FDIC, OCC and FRB last year.  For more on the Final Capital Rule, please see the discussions in the July 2, 2013 Financial Services Alert and the July 9, 2013 Financial Services Alert.

The Proposed Rule would revise the ratios and ratio thresholds for capital evaluations used in the risk-based deposit assessment system to conform to the prompt corrective action capital ratio and ratio thresholds.  This would result in revisions to the definitions of “well capitalized” and “adequately capitalized” for deposit insurance purposes in order to incorporate the revised capital ratio thresholds under the Final Capital Rule.  The revision would also incorporate the supplementary leverage ratio for institutions subject to such ratio.  The provisions of the Proposed Rule related to capital ratios are proposed to be effective January 1, 2015 and the provisions related to the supplementary leverage ratio are proposed to be effective January 1, 2018.  These changes would apply to all insured depository institutions, including those with less than $1 billion in assets.

The Proposed Rule would also revise the assessment base calculation for custodial banks to conform to the standardized approach asset risk weights adopted in the Final Capital Rule.  For deposit insurance assessment purposes, the Proposed Rule would apply the generally applicable risk weights (as revised under the Final Capital Rule’s standardized approach) even for institutions using the Final Capital Rule’s advanced approach.  This change is proposed to be effective January 1, 2015 and would apply to all custodial banks, including those with less than $1 billion in assets.

Additionally, the Proposed Rule would require all highly complex institutions to measure counterparty exposure for deposit insurance assessment purposes using the Final Capital Rule’s standardized approach credit equivalent amount for derivatives and the Final Capital Rule’s standardized approach exposure amount for other securities financing transactions, including repurchase transactions and margin loans.  This revision is proposed to be effective January 1, 2015 and would apply to only “highly complex institutions,” those large insured depository institutions “that are structurally and operationally complex or that pose unique challenges and risks to the [Deposit Insurance Fund] in the event of failure.”

The FDIC will accept comments on the Proposed Rule until 60 days following its publication in the Federal Register.

Secretary of the Treasury Lew Urges Financial Institutions to Enhance Their Cybersecurity Defenses

Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew presented remarks at a conference hosted by CNBC and Institutional Investor in which he urged financial institutions to increase their cybersecurity defense efforts because cyber intrusions are now a daily event, and “successful attacks on our financial system would compromise market confidence, jeopardize the integrity of data, and pose a threat to financial stability.”  “Far too many hedge funds, asset managers, insurance providers, exchanges, financial market utilities and banks,” said Secretary Lew, “should and could be doing more to enhance their cybersecurity defenses.”

Secretary Lew stressed that in 2013 the Obama Administration issued an executive order that provided a new voluntary cybersecurity framework that firms (including financial institutions and their outside vendors) are urged to use “to evaluate, maintain and improve the resiliency of their computer systems.”  Secretary Lew next discussed the need for increased information sharing (with respect to cybersecurity issues) across the financial services industry and with governmental authorities.  He then noted that the Treasury Department has established an information sharing and analysis unit named the Financial Sector Cyber Intelligence Group.  That Group, said Secretary Lew, “is delivering timely and actionable information that financial institutions can use to protect themselves.”  He also noted that firms must disclose cybersecurity breaches where necessary, and that the information provided through such disclosure helps protect U.S. financial and economic security.  Secretary Lew further stated that “my Deputy Secretary, Sarah Bloom Raskin, will be working with federal and state financial regulatory agencies to reduce cyber risks to the financial system.”  Finally, Secretary Lew urged Congress to pass legislation that fosters information sharing with respect to cybersecurity and protects the public from cyber threats.

SEC Staff Legal Bulletin Addresses Use of Proxy Advisory Firms by Advisers and Reliance by Proxy Advisory Firms on Proxy Rules Exemptions

The SEC’s Divisions of Investment Management and Corporation Finance issued Staff Legal Bulletin No. 20 (the “Guidance”) which provides guidance from the Division of Investment Management to investment advisers on their responsibilities in voting client proxies, particularly regarding the use of proxy advisory firms, and guidance from the Division of Corporation Finance to proxy advisory firms on their ability to rely on certain exemptions from the information and filing requirements of the federal proxy rules provided by Rule 14a-2(b) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  This article summarizes the Division of Investment Management’s guidance.

Voting Client Proxies – Adviser Duties 

The Guidance reiterates the SEC’s interpretation that Section 206 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”) imposes on an adviser a duty of care and loyalty with respect to proxy voting it undertakes on a client’s behalf.  The Guidance states that a registered adviser may demonstrate compliance with the written policies regarding proxy voting required of it by Rule 206(4)-6 under the Advisers Act (the “Proxy Voting Rule”) by, for example, (1) periodically verifying that action taken on a sample of proxy votes complied with the adviser’s policies, and (2) conducting targeted reviews of a sample of proxy votes on proposals that may require more analysis.  The Guidance also discusses reviewing proxy voting policies as part of an adviser’s annual review of its compliance program.

The Guidance notes that the Proxy Rule does not require an adviser to vote all client proxies and lists the following possible arrangements as illustrative of the flexibility afforded clients and advisers in determining the scope of proxy authority a client may grant to an adviser:

  • An adviser and its client may agree that the time and costs associated with the mechanics of voting proxies for certain types of proposals or issuers may not be in the client’s best interest.
  • An adviser and its client may agree that the adviser should exercise voting authority as recommended by management of the company or in favor of all proposals made by a particular shareholder proponent, as applicable, absent a contrary instruction from the client or a determination by the adviser that a particular proposal should be voted in a different way if, for example, it would further the investment strategy being pursued by the adviser on the client’s behalf.
  • An adviser and its client may agree that the adviser will abstain from voting any proxies at all, regardless of whether the client undertakes to vote the proxies itself.
  • An adviser and its client may agree that the adviser will focus resources only on particular types of proposals based on the client’s preferences.

Proxy Advisory Firms – Adviser Due Diligence and Oversight

The Guidance states that an adviser deciding whether to retain or continue retaining a proxy advisory firm to provide proxy voting recommendations should “ascertain, among other things, the firm’s capacity and competency to adequately analyze proxy issues” through the consideration of, “among other things:  the adequacy and quality of the proxy advisory firm’s staffing and personnel; the robustness of its policies and procedures regarding its ability to (i) ensure that its proxy voting recommendations are based on current and accurate information and (ii) identify and address any conflicts of interest . . . .”

The Guidance states that the Proxy Voting Rule requires an adviser to adopt procedures for overseeing a third party (such as a proxy advisory firm) that assists the adviser in fulfilling its proxy voting responsibilities and that these procedures should seek to verify on an ongoing basis that the arrangement with the third party continues to result in proxies being voted in the best interests of the adviser’s clients.  Noting that, after an adviser’s initial assessment, a proxy advisory firm’s business or policies regarding conflicts of interest could change in a manner that alters the effectiveness of the proxy advisory firm’s conflicts policies, the Guidance reiterates prior staff guidance stating that an adviser should take measures reasonably designed to identify and address on an ongoing basis potential proxy advisory firm conflicts, such as by requiring a proxy advisory firm to update the adviser of “business changes the investment adviser considers relevant  (i.e., with respect to the proxy advisory firm’s capacity and competency to provide proxy voting advice) or conflict policies and procedures.”

In discussing an adviser’s duty to oversee a proxy advisory firm, the Guidance addresses the situation where an adviser determines that a proxy advisory firm’s recommendation was based on a material factual error such that the adviser is led to question the process by which the proxy advisory firm develops its recommendations.   The Guidance states that an adviser faced with this situation “should take reasonable steps to investigate the error, taking into account, among other things, the nature of the error and the related recommendation, and seek to determine whether the proxy advisory firm is taking reasonable steps to seek to reduce similar errors in the future.”

Responding to the Guidance

The Guidance closes by noting the SEC staff’s expectation that any changes that may be needed in response to the Guidance will be made promptly, but in any event in advance of next year’s proxy season.