MetLife ‘Strongly Disagrees’ With FSOC Systemic Risk Ruling

The decision is a potential defeat for CEO Kandarian, who worked to avoid the systemically important designation.

INN Breaking News, September 5, 2014

Zachary Tracer

(Bloomberg) -- MetLife Inc. was deemed systemically important by a panel of regulators, a decision that would subject the biggest U.S. life insurer to stricter Federal Reserve oversight.

“MetLife strongly disagrees” with the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s move today, Chief Executive Officer Steven Kandarian said in a statement. “MetLife has served as a source of financial strength and stability during times of economic distress, including the 2008 financial crisis.”

The decision is a potential defeat for Kandarian, who worked to avoid the systemically important designation. Kandarian, who has called regulatory uncertainty the primary challenge to meeting profit targets, met with regulators and lawmakers and submitted thousands of pages of supporting documents in opposing the label.

MetLife isn’t ruling out any available remedy to the FSOC’s decision, the New York-based insurer said. Today’s vote was a proposed designation. The company has 30 days to request a hearing before the FSOC to contest the decision. After a hearing, regulators would hold a final vote on whether to designate MetLife.

The council today also “continued its discussion regarding its ongoing assessment of the asset-management industry and received an update from staff on these efforts,” according to a statement from the Treasury Department.

Asset Managers

The FSOC had said in July it would focus on asset managers’ activities and products, moving away from designating the firms systemically important. The regulators had previously discussed whether asset companies such as BlackRock Inc. and Fidelity Investments should be designated.

The council, which has 10 voting members and is led by Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, doesn’t release the names of companies unless a designation is made. The Treasury said in the statement that the vote “was unanimous with one member voting present.”

The FSOC has been criticized by lawmakers and industry groups that want more information on the council’s deliberations.

“Today’s irresponsible and inappropriate designation of another U.S. business as too-big-to-fail only strengthens my resolve to reform the out-of-control FSOC,” U.S. Representative Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican, said in a statement today. “We must ensure taxpayers are not on the hook for FSOC’s dangerous regulatory overreach.”

Lacking Transparency

Representative John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement that he has “concerns about the process behind the designation, particularly regarding the lack of communication and transparency,” though he wouldn’t comment on the “specific merits” of the MetLife decision.

Benjamin Lawsky, New York’s superintendent of financial services, said in a July 30 letter to Lew that MetLife’s insurance businesses already are “carefully regulated” by his department. The insurer “does not engage in non-traditional, non-insurance activities that create any appreciable systemic risk,” he wrote.

The council’s discussion of asset managers follows more than years of campaigning by the firms and their lobby groups against potential systemic-risk designations. They ramped up their efforts after the Treasury’s Office of Financial Research published a study in September 2013 warning that the largest asset firms could disrupt financial markets by “herding” investors seeking higher returns.

Slower Review

After discussing BlackRock and Fidelity in October 2013, the FSOC this year has slowed its deliberations on individual asset managers.

The companies say they differ from banks because their funds aren’t backed by U.S. guarantees, fund companies don’t make big trades with their own assets, and because clients direct their investments and can withdraw them at any time.

The FSOC’s voting members also include the heads of the Fed, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The council has designated three non-bank financial companies systemically important: insurers American International Group Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc., and General Electric Co.’s finance arm. A two-thirds vote, including Lew’s, is required.

AIG, which received and then repaid a $182.3 billion U.S. bailout after it was unable to meet obligations at its derivatives unit, is one of the main reasons the FSOC was formed.

Created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, the council is charged with monitoring potential threats to the financial system. Under Dodd-Frank, bank-holding companies with more than $50 billion in assets, such as Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., are overseen by the Fed.

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