Chairman Sheila Bair To Leave FDIC Next Month

Originally published on June 21, 2011 5:36 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: I'd like to start with a concept that we've heard an awful lot about since the start of this crisis, that banks were simply too big to fail, some of them, and that would be because their failure would mean the collapse of the financial system. At this point, do you have faith that too-big-to-fail won't happen again, that the U.S. taxpayer won't be bailing out big banks in the future?

MONTAGNE: Well, I certainly feel confident that we have the tools to insulate taxpayers and make sure that if these large institutions get into trouble going forward, there will be an alternative mechanism so that they can be what we call resolved in an orderly way without resort to taxpayer funding, but without the disruptive impacts that you can have with bankruptcy, as we saw with the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.

MONTAGNE: Well, a lot of the issues with the banking stemmed from companies that were actually not banks.

MONTAGNE: That's correct. That's quite true.

MONTAGNE: And may I say I think people will know a name they would've never known before this crisis: AIG. But the whole question of banks that are too big to fail, the biggest banks have only gotten bigger over the past couple of years.

MONTAGNE: I think that is really an area that we need to look at particularly. The interconnectedness and the complexity and the international activity are three strong indicators of an institution being systemic that perhaps are even more reflective than just sheer asset size.

MONTAGNE: Congress passed a raft of banking reforms last year in the Dodd-Frank bill, and that law calls for banks to maintain higher capital reserves, among other things, a kind of, I guess, a rainy day fund. Banks say that holding more cash means they can't put the money back in the economy. They can't lend it. First of all, what do you say to that? I mean, does anybody really know what effect it's having on the economy?

MONTAGNE: But in fairness to banks, I think borrower demand is down because of uncertainties about the economy. So we don't have as many borrowers seeking loans. And that's really what's driving lending levels right now. It has nothing to do with capital requirements.

MONTAGNE: You have said in the past that although a lot of what was done by executives in these financial institutions may have been irresponsible, not so much of it is obviously criminal. But can you blame Americans for thinking executives did get a free pass, that there hasn't been enough accountability?

MONTAGNE: I would also add, though, I think it's important not to lump all banks and financial institutions together. I think there were several that were quite well-run. Everybody made mistakes. But I think there should be some differentiation with some institutions, and they shouldn't all be lumped together.

MONTAGNE: Thank you for joining us.

MONTAGNE: All right. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.