Silicon Valley Bank’s Risks Went Deep. Congress Wants to Know Why.

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top financial regulators will face a grilling from lawmakers on Tuesday over the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank as they push to understand why the firm was allowed to grow so rapidly and build up so much risk that it failed, requiring a government rescue for depositors and sending shock waves across global markets.

Michael S. Barr, the Federal Reserve’s vice chair for supervision, will testify before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday alongside Martin Gruenberg, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Nellie Liang, the Treasury’s under secretary for domestic finance. The same officials are set to testify before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday.

Lawmakers are expected to focus on what went wrong. The picture that has emerged so far is of a bank that grew ravenously and ran itself more like a start-up than a 40-year-old lender. The bank took in a large share of big — and uninsured — depositors even as it used its assets to double down on a bet that interest rates would stay low.

Instead, the Fed raised rates sharply to slow rapid inflation, reducing the market value of Silicon Valley Bank’s large holdings of longer-term bonds and making them less attractive as new securities offered higher returns. When SVB sold some of its holdings to shore up its balance sheet, it incurred big losses.

That spooked its customers, many of whom had deposits far above the $250,000 limit on what the government would guarantee in the event the bank failed. They raced to pull their money out, and the bank collapsed on March 10.

The question is why supervisors at the Fed failed to stop the bank from making dangerous mistakes that seem obvious in hindsight. And the answer is important: If the Fed missed the problems because of widespread flaws in the ways banks are overseen and regulated, it could mean other weak spots in the industry are slipping through the cracks.

Here is a rundown of what is already known, and where lawmakers could push for firmer answers this week.

Silicon Valley Bank went to just above $115 billion in assets at the end of 2020 from $71 billion at the end of 2019. That growth catapulted it to a new level of oversight at the Fed by late 2021 — into the purview the Large and Foreign Banking Organization Management Group.

That group includes a mix of staff members from the Fed’s regional reserve banks and its Board of Governors in Washington. Banks that are large enough to fall under its remit get more scrutiny than smaller organizations.

Silicon Valley Bank would most likely have moved to that more onerous oversight rung at least a couple of years earlier had it not been for a watering-down of rules that the Fed carried out under Randal K. Quarles, who was its supervisory vice chair during the Trump administration.

By the time the bank had come under intense scrutiny, problems had already started: Fed officials found big issues in their first sweeping review.

Supervisors promptly issued six citations — called matters requiring attention or matters requiring immediate attention — that amounted to a warning that SVB was doing a faulty job of managing its ability to raise cash in a pinch if needed.

It is not clear precisely what those citations said, because the Fed has not released them. By the time the bank went through a full supervisory review in 2022, supervisors were seeing glimmers of progress on the issues, a person familiar with the matter said.

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