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House finance committee says Sifi tag raises consumer costs

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The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee said that the Financial Stability Oversight Council is raising costs for U.S. consumers by designating some financial institutions — including insurers — as systemically important financial institutions.

“Of all of the Council's activities, none generates more controversy than its designation of nonbank financial institutions as 'systemically important financial institutions',” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, as he opened the panel's hearings into the FSOC's activities on Tuesday. Companies designated as Sifis are subject to heightened regulatory scrutiny by the Federal Reserve.

He said that merely raising the prospect of the designation hampers entrepreneurial risk-taking, innovation and growth from our economy. “As a result, Americans may find themselves paying more to insure their homes and their families. Investors who relied on mutual funds to save for their children's education or their own retirement will find they have earned less,” he said.

S. Roy Woodall, a former Treasury official and insurance regulator who serves as FSOC's independent member with insurance expertise, a position created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 that established FSOC, also questioned the impact of designating traditional insurers as Sifis. Rep. Hensarling noted that Mr. Woodall had been the only FSOC member to dissent when the body designated MetLife Inc. and Prudential Insurance Co. of America as Sifis, and asked Mr. Woodall the effect of such designations.

Mr. Woodall responded that the designation could mean high prices, higher regulatory costs and the creation of an unlevel playing field for companies that have the designation.

American International Group Inc. is the third U.S. insurance group to be designated a Sifi. MetLife has challenged its designation in court, but the case has yet to be heard.