Multiple federal authorities have launched investigations into the fall of Silicon Valley Bank, the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history, as lawmakers and officials point fingers over who and what to blame for the collapse.
Federal regulators took over Silicon Valley last week after depositors flocked to the firm to pull funds after executives said they needed to raise billions in capital to secure the bank’s balance sheet.
The separate probes from federal authorities, which were reported by a number of outlets, will examine the background of the event, including the actions of bank executives in the days leading up to the failure.
Here is what you need to know about the federal investigations into Silicon Valley Bank.
DOJ and SEC are both probing the bank
Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officials are both probing the bank in the aftermath of its historic failure, a move that was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The separate investigations by the agencies are in preliminary phases, according to the Journal, and may not lead to charges. But the opening of Department of Justice (DOJ) inquiry signals that officials believe there is a possibility of criminal wrongdoing in the bank’s crash.
The SEC pointed The Hill toward a statement from the commission’s chair, Gary Gensler, from Sunday, saying the agency would “investigate and bring enforcement actions if we find violations of the federal securities laws.”
“In times of increased volatility and uncertainty, we at the SEC are particularly focused on monitoring for market stability and identifying and prosecuting any form of misconduct that might threaten investors, capital formation, or the markets more broadly,” the statement said. “Without speaking to any individual entity or person, we will investigate and bring enforcement actions if we find violations of the federal securities laws.”
DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the investigations.
The Federal Reserve is also reviewing the bank failure
The Federal Reserve said it was launching a review of its oversight and regulation of Silicon Valley Bank, naming one of its top officials to lead the review.
“The events surrounding Silicon Valley Bank demand a thorough, transparent, and swift review by the Federal Reserve,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in a statement announcing the review on Monday.
The inward scrutiny comes as lawmakers have pointed fingers at the Biden administration for its handling of the broader economy in the runup to the bank’s collapse, particularly the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates in a bid to fight back inflation.
Authorities are probing stock sales by bank executives
Federal authorities are also investigating the stock sales of bank executives in the days leading up to the bank’s collapse, according to the Journal, which cited people familiar with the investigations.
The scrutiny from federal investigators comes after revelations that Gregory Becker, former chief executive officer of the now-defunct bank, sold over $3.5 million worth of stock in the bank roughly two weeks before it was taken over by the federal government, according to filings.
The investigators are looking into other possible stock sell offs by bank executives, the report said.
No bank executives faced jail time after the 2008 financial crisis
Following the 2008 economic crash, which was precipitated by highly risky investment practices by major U.S. banks, no one who led the powerful firms that were most responsible for the crash faced time in jail. In fact, many of them never faced any prosecution.
While the 2008 crash did lead to the prosecution of a number of mortgage brokers and others complicit in the home loan crisis that helped sink the economy, it did not see executives for massive Wall Street firms held accountable.
Even though the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, created in 2009 to investigate the cause of the disaster, made referrals of criminal behavior to the Justice Department, none of the major players in the collapse were ever prosecuted.
The probe could lead to increased scrutiny of the rest of the banking industry
As federal authorities examine the root causes of the fall of Silicon Valley Bank, it could lead to increased oversight of how the rest of the banking industry is handling their investments.
Many pointed to higher interest rates as one of the main reasons why Silicon Valley Bank bottomed out, with the bank relying on a load of government bonds it bought with low interest rates to hoist up its balance sheets. However, as the Fed hiked interest rates to curb inflation, the value of Silicon Valley Bank’s low-interest bonds fell.
The federal scrutiny of those practices may lead regulators to review the investing practices of similarly situated banks, particularly regional and mid-sized firms, to make sure that they are able to securely serve customer withdrawal needs. A review of the banking industry at large is something that liberal Democrats have been clamoring for in the aftermath of the Silicon Valley Bank debacle.