Risk & Compliance

Fed Scraps Part of Stress Tests for Big Banks

The elimination of the "qualitative" portion of the annual tests eases some of the post-crisis regulatory burden on banks.
Matthew HellerMarch 7, 2019
Fed Scraps Part of Stress Tests for Big Banks

The U.S. Federal Reserve is giving the country’s big banks some relief from its annual stress tests, dropping the “qualitative” assessment of banks’ ability to keep lending during a financial crisis.

The Fed’s move represents a partial dismantling of the testing program it adopted after the global crisis of 2007-09. The qualitative test gave the Fed the discretion to flunk banks due to risk management or operational failures, even if they had sufficient capital.

Effective for this year’s cycle, that portion of the program will be eliminated for most firms due to improvements in capital planning, the central bank said Wednesday.

Those benefiting from the change include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Citigroup. The Fed in 2014 shot down Citigroup’s plans to return money to shareholders after it failed the qualitative section.

The U.S. subsidiaries of five foreign banks will continue to be subject to the annual exam.

The so-called Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review also includes a quantitative evaluation of a bank’s capital adequacy under stress. Most banks that have failed the CCAR stumbled on the qualitative objection, requiring them to adjust their capital distribution plans.

“Bank executives have been exasperated by the stress tests, complaining that the qualitative section, in particular, relies on regulators’ subjective judgment,” The New York Times said.

In recent months, Fed officials have indicated growing interest in easing the burdens on big banks. The stress test changes are “an attempt to be sensitive to how time-consuming and resource-oriented these regulatory testing processes are,” Evan Stewart, a partner at the law firm Cohen & Gresser, told the NYT.

But financial industry watchdogs and other critics have argued that the relaxation of rules will lead to a less safe, less transparent financial system.

“It’s like if we all had to go to gym class and we all had to do the same things, now they’re saying half of you don’t even have to go, and the other half that have to go can do something easier,” said Christopher Wolfe, a managing director at Fitch Ratings.