Jill On Money: Lessons from Silicon Valley Bank’s failure
Published in Jill On Money
Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), which catered to technology startups and the venture capital firms that financed them, was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). (The FDIC is an independent agency of the U.S. government that protects customers of insured banks against the loss of their deposits, up to $250,000, per depositor, if an insured bank fails.)
SVB was the second-largest bank failure on record and has led many to question the stability of other, similar small to medium-sized niche banks that provided funding to high growth sectors like tech and crypto.
Although the SVB story is still unfolding, there are important lessons that we can learn.
Every banking consumer should keep their money at FDIC insured institutions and individual account balances should remain under $250,000. The FDIC provides separate insurance coverage for different categories of legal ownership, (i.e., joint or trust accounts).
The FDIC notes: “This means that a bank customer who has multiple accounts may qualify for more than $250,000 in insurance coverage if the customer's funds are deposited in different ownership categories and the requirements for each ownership category are met.”
If you are unclear about whether or not your various accounts are covered by FDIC, contact your bank to learn more. Since the FDIC began operations in 1934, no depositor has ever lost a penny of FDIC-insured deposits. Talk about peace of mind!
As the tech sector boomed on the back of low interest rates and abundant funding, many of the companies that held accounts at SVB prospered and were able to deposit a lot of money at the bank.
SVB did what many banks do: It kept what it thought was an adequate amount of cash on hand to meet any withdrawal demands from its depositors and used “extra cash” to purchase U.S. Treasuries. To boost the amount of interest they earned, SVB bought longer dated bonds, which are often more price sensitive to interest rate moves.
When interest went up, SVB showed a paper loss on their bonds. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but as tech and start-up companies came under pressure over the past 18 months, they needed to withdraw their deposits at SVB to finance their operations. To meet those depositor demands, the bank was forced to sell their government bonds prior to maturity — and at a loss — to free up money. SVB management forgot a core investing concept: higher yield can increase risk.
For years, the Federal Reserve maintained a Zero Percent Interest Rate Policy (“ZIRP”). When rates remain low for long periods of time, it encourages growth, but also can lead to outsized risk taking. Now that the Fed has reversed course and is hiking interest rates to beat back inflation, there are unintended consequences, like a bank being forced to sell its “safe” bonds at a loss to meet its obligations.
After the financial crisis of 2008, the government stepped up the requirements for large institutions, which forces them to keep more cash on hand than small-midsize banks. Additionally, large banks have a more diversified customer and funding base, which can shield them from such shocks.
SVB was one of the small to mid-sized banks that lobbied the government to ease the post-financial crisis banking regulations. In 2018, those efforts bore fruit, as the Trump Administration reduced regulations and oversight for banks with assets less than $250 billion. Perhaps with more oversight and higher capital and liquidity requirements, SVB may have avoided this disastrous outcome.
(Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. A former options trader and CIO of an investment advisory firm, she welcomes comments and questions at email@example.com. Check her website at www.jillonmoney.com)
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