Scant detail in big banks' 'living wills'

The nine biggest banks in the U.S. have submitted plans for how to avoid a taxpayer bailout if they become insolvent. But will these plans work?

Jeff Horwich: The so-called "living wills" of the nine largest U.S. banks are now available for viewing. Filed this week, the documents are supposed to prevent another "too big to fail" scenario -- they tell regulators what the banks plan to do in the event they become insolvent. But very few details of the plans were publicly disclosed. So will the wills do their job?

Here's our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore.


Heidi Moore: No matter how patriotic you're feeling today, you probably don't want the government to bail out another bank. That's why Congress forced banks to come up with a plan to pay the price for their own mistakes.

Mitchell Glassman: The living wills don't say that losses won't occur, but that they will occur to those who have a greater investment in the bank -- not to the taxpayer.

Mitchell Glassman is a director with Deloitte Consulting. In a previous life, he helped bail out banks. He supports living wills. But others are skeptical.

Dwight Smith: The drawbacks are that they're not going to work.

Dwight Smith is a partner with Morrison & Foerster. He thinks the same way as the boxer Mike Tyson, who said, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." In other words, in a crisis, all bets are off.

Smith: The living will assumes that other large financial institutions would be willing to help out.

And that's a big assumption. In the last crisis, all the banks that came to the rescue did so only with taxpayer backing.

In New York, I'm Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.

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