Federal Reserve

US Fed fines Deutsche Bank nearly US$157 million for breaking rule on risky market bets

New York Department of Financial Services poised to sanction Deutsche Bank as well

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 7:51am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 7:51am

Deutsche Bank AG was hit with the Federal Reserve’s first major fine for failing to ensure traders abide by the Volcker Rule’s ban on risky market bets -- and will pay even more for letting currency desks chat online with competitors, allegedly revealing positions.

The simultaneous sanctions, totaling almost US$157 million, fault lax oversight of traders that persisted into last year. The company -- which raised US$8.5 billion from investors this month to recapitalize -- admitted to the Fed in March 2016 that it still lacked adequate systems for keeping tabs on dealings that might run afoul of the Volcker ban.

“Significant gaps existed across key aspects of Deutsche Bank’s Volcker Rule compliance programme,” the Fed said Thursday, fining the firm US$19.7 million for the lapses.

As for chats, the bank failed to detect that currency traders engaged in “unsafe and unsound conduct,” disclosing some positions or talking about coordinating strategies, the Fed said. The company will pay US$136.9 million for that.

Germany’s largest bank is trying to refocus on growth after probes and legal disputes sapped years of earnings, pushing the firm to tap investors to shore up capital. Yet the Fed wasn’t the only regulator examining the currency chat rooms. New York’s Department of Financial Services, which has a track record of demanding stiffer penalties than the Fed, has been preparing to sanction the firm as well, a person familiar with the matter said last month.

“We are pleased to resolve these civil enforcement matters with the Federal Reserve,” said Renee Calabro, a Deutsche Bank spokeswoman, declining to comment further on Thursday’s cases. In December, the lender agreed to settle a US mortgage-backed securities probe for US$7.2 billion.

The Volcker Rule, named for former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, seeks to make the financial system safer by barring banks with federally insured deposits from betting their own money. Such wagers once drove epic profits and bonuses in the years before 2008’s financial crisis.

Now, traders are largely relegated to helping clients buy and sell securities, profiting mainly on the spread or price moves. And banks are supposed to ensure such market-making doesn’t bleed into outright wagers -- a line that can be blurry.

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The Fed credited Deutsche Bank for taking steps to identify and shore up its policies and controls. It didn’t accuse the bank of engaging in banned proprietary trades.

Senior financial officials in the Trump administration have said they intend to rethink the Volcker Rule, which was created by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who’s leading an effort to overhaul Dodd-Frank, has said Volcker went too far in choking off trading and should be made simpler to understand. The rule’s critics have suggested regulators appointed by President Donald Trump could just ease off on enforcing its toughest provisions.

Transcripts of chats between Deutsche Bank traders and those from other banks emerged more than a year ago in civil litigation over the matter filed in Manhattan, and the US Justice Department had been looking into the bank’s currency-trading activities. In March, the bank said the department had informed it that the US criminal inquiry had been closed without action.

In Thursday’s chat-room settlement, the Fed ordered the bank to improve its senior management’s oversight of foreign exchange trading and cooperate in any investigations of the individuals involved.

The bank has been contending with other inquires this year. The US attorney’s office in Manhattan has been examining possible sanctions violations and “mirror trading” that moved billions of dollars out of Russia.