U.S. regulators will ratchet up enforcement penalties if banks keep making compliance mistakes that have cost them more than $100 billion in legal bills in recent years, said Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry.
As the six biggest banks, led by JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Bank of America Corp., have topped $103 billion in legal costs since the 2008 credit crisis, Curry said his agency has turned its focus to “operational risk” -- failures by people, systems and controls inside the banks.
“Some of the settlements and the size of those settlements and regulatory penalties are a reflection of that breakdown,” Curry said today on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers” with Erik Schatzker, discussing JPMorgan’s so-called London Whale missteps and money-laundering violations at HSBC Holdings Plc. (HSBA) “These are significant penalties. They are also subject to additional ratcheting up if there’s continued non-compliance.”
Curry said his agency’s failure to detect the London Whale trading in which JPMorgan lost more than $6.2 billion has caused him to make “major changes with respect to our supervision of the model procedures the banks use for determining capital.”
In its investigation of the Whale trades, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said the OCC downgraded JPMorgan’s management rating in July 2012 for “lax governance and oversight.”
Ralph Sharpe, a partner at Venable LLP who was a former enforcement chief at the OCC, said Curry has made it clear that banks experiencing a wide range of legal troubles could face lower management ratings.
“If the rating gets bad enough, I think there’s an expectation that the board should act to start dealing with management,” Sharpe said. He added that systemic problems can also affect the frequency and intensity of the regulator’s examinations.
Curry, the chief regulator of national banks, said the question of growing bank scale and complexity also figures into his agency’s supervision. He said it’s important to have a range of bank sizes in the industry even as the biggest ones can be more difficult to manage and oversee.
“There’s always going to be this element of complexity,” he said. “That gets exponentially harder the larger you are.”
JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets and one that has been beset by government investigations and settlements, is bracing for enforcement actions from the OCC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the New York-based bank said the OCC informed it of “its determination to seek an administrative order” related to the lender’s handling of credit-card debt. It said the consumer agency was conducting a similar probe.
Both agencies are also weighing enforcement orders regarding identity-theft products, the filing said.