The Federal Reserve has designated Deutsche Bank AG’s sprawling U.S. business in “troubled condition,” a rare censure for a major financial institution that contributed to constraints on its operations, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Fed’s downgrade, which took place about a year ago, is secret and hasn’t been previously made public. The “troubled condition” status—one of the lowest designations employed by the Fed—has influenced moves by the bank to reduce risk-taking in areas like trading and lending to customers.
It also means the bank has had to clear decisions about hiring and firing senior U.S. managers with Fed overseers. Even reassigning job duties and making severance payments for certain employees require Fed approval, the people said.
The punitive action by the Fed, the bank’s primary U.S. regulator, has rippled through Deutsche Bank’s relationships with other regulators, including the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which has pressured the lender to improve controls and oversight, people familiar with those relationships said.
The U.S. system for rating banks is called “CAMELS,” which stands for capital adequacy, asset quality, management, earnings, liquidity, and sensitivity to market risk. A bank’s topline rating, from 1 to 5, takes into account all those categories. The best rating is “1.” Troubled banks are rated either “4” or “5.” Scores aren’t made public.
A downgrade by the Fed has also landed the bank’s FDIC-insured subsidiary, Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, on the FDIC’s “Problem Banks” list of at-risk institutions, according to people familiar with the matter. The FDIC doesn’t detail the membership of the list, but does say how many banks are on it and the combined value of their assets. The list’s asset total rose by $42.5 billion in the first quarter; Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, the bank’s well-capitalized American deposit-taking unit, had $42.1 billion in assets as of March 31, according to regulatory filings.
Banks are added to the list after they receive a “4” or “5” overall rating from their primary regulator. How those banks fare later shows how firms do sometimes recover from harsh ratings.
Of the 1783 institutions designated “problem banks” between January 2008 and March 2017, 854 recovered and shed the label, 523 failed, 294 merged, and 112 remained in problem status, the agency said in its history of the financial crisis.
A Fed spokesman declined to comment. An FDIC spokesman declined to comment.
A Deutsche Bank spokeswoman said the bank doesn’t discuss “specific regulatory feedback.” She said that Deutsche Bank AG, the parent company, “is very well capitalized and has significant liquidity reserves.” The relevant U.S. subsidiaries are “DB USA Corp, Deutsche Bank Trust Corporation, and Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, our principal U.S. banking subsidiary, which has a very robust balance sheet as disclosed in our annual and quarterly regulatory filings.”
The bank spokeswoman added: “We have previously indicated that our regulators have identified various areas for improvement relating to our control environment and infrastructure. We are highly focused on addressing identified weaknesses in our U.S. operations.”
The problems that spurred the downgrade, and the complexity it injected into daily decision-making and long-term planning, help frame one of Deutsche Bank’s biggest challenges. The bank is struggling to curtail costs and risks in a huge market where, according to the bank’s executives, it must be present to maintain its global reach.
But obstacles to making money in the U.S. have become tougher as Deutsche Bank has piled up legal settlements and raced to improve outdated technology. The added scrutiny that comes with the Fed’s “troubled” label brings headaches that other banks don’t have to contend with.
For Deutsche Bank, the effects of disappointing the Fed continue to reverberate in recent decisions under new Chief Executive Christian Sewing to pull back from certain kinds of lending and trading activities, some people close to the bank said.
Mr. Sewing was named CEO in early April with the ouster of John Cryan after three consecutive full-year losses. The new German boss said last week Deutsche Bank will cut thousands of jobs, and reiterated plans to reduce the lender’s global equities business and other investment-banking activities.
Groundwork for the risk pullback was laid last year as Deutsche Bank’s performance lagged. Fed supervisors grew exasperated with its shortcomings in systems and controls and the slow pace of improvements, people familiar with internal discussions said.
Deutsche Bank’s U.S. operations have drawn regulatory ire for years. They received a stinging rebuke from the New York Fed in 2014 about repeated financial-reporting failuresand lack of follow-through on promised fixes, The Wall Street Journal detailed.
Deutsche Bank U.S. operations failed the Fed’s stress tests in 2015 and 2016, and in 2017 was the subject of multiple Fed enforcement actions for perceived lax controls tied to currency trading, money laundering, and Volcker-rule trading restrictions. Deutsche Bank has also paid billions of dollars to settle allegations stemming from U.S. Justice Department investigations.
Last year, the Fed repeatedly cited concerns privately to the bank about its controls around measuring financial exposure to clients and valuing collateral that backed loans, according to people close to the bank.
Portions of the Fed’s criticisms suggested to Deutsche Bank executives they needed to pull back on so-called repo financing—short-term lending typically based on securities-repurchase agreements—to hedge-fund clients and other banks. Within the investment bank last year, some executives privately complained that repo exposures were less risky than the Fed depicted them, spurring debate over how much to dial back, some of the people with knowledge of internal discussions said.
The Fed also reupped its criticism of Deutsche Bank’s financial documentation. Examiners expressed frustration at what they described as the bank’s inability to calculate, at the end of any given day, its exposures to what banks and other clients it had in specific jurisdictions, and over what duration, some of the people said.
— Alastair Williamson (@StockBoardAsset) May 29, 2018
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