Risk & Compliance

MetLife in Legal Showdown Over SIFI Label

The company says federal regulators erred in giving it the "systemically important" designation, which would subject it to stricter oversight.
Matthew HellerAugust 24, 2015

MetLife has fired another salvo in a high-stakes legal battle with the U.S. government, arguing that federal regulators erred in labeling it as a potential threat to the financial system.

MetLife is challenging its designation as a systemically important financial institution (SIFI) by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), the fourth of a nonbank. Under the Dodd-Frank post-crisis financial reforms, an SIFI is subject to stricter regulatory oversight.

The FSOC cited MetLife’s “significant financial activities beyond simply selling life insurance.” But the company insists it is not an SIFI because it is not “predominantly engaged in financial activities.”

According to Bloomberg, the case “represents the biggest challenge to the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s authority since it was created under Dodd-Frank.” MetLife’s supporters include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which filed an amicus brief on its behalf in June.

A District of Columbia judge is now considering motions for summary judgment. “FSOC erred at the very outset of its designation inquiry when it classified MetLife as a U.S. nonbank financial company eligible for designation,” MetLife said in court papers filed last week.

The FSOC, which is an arm of the U.S. Treasury Department, applied the SIFI designation “in a manner that violated Dodd-Frank” and rejected information that would have better informed its decision, the company said.

“There are well-established principles to guide risk analysis,” MetLife lawyer Eugene Scalia wrote. “FSOC ignored them.”

The council is responsible for identifying financial companies that are so big and interconnected that their failure could threaten the U.S. economy.

“MetLife engages in complex financial transactions and capital markets activities which, in a distress situation, not only could expose other major market participants to substantial losses, but could also put cash strains on the company, requiring it to sell assets at a scale and speed that could impair or freeze up broader financial markets,” the FSOC said in court papers.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer could hear oral arguments in the fall. “A MetLife victory could weaken FSOC’s ability to designate companies and encourage other firms to appeal its decisions,” Bloomberg said.

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