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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Banking Bill Tinkers With Marketing Limits

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Members of the House of Representatives voted 417-0 Wednesday to pass S. 2856, a bank regulation bill.

Little of the bill appears to deal directly with insurance, but one section, Section 611, could affect financial holding companies that are deciding whether to use insurance company units or “merchant banking” units to invest in retailers, restaurant chains and other nonfinancial companies.

“This section allows depository institution subsidiaries of a financial holding company to engage in cross-marketing activities with portfolio companies that are held under [Gramm-Leach Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act] merchant banking authority to the same extent as such activities are currently permissible for portfolio companies held under GLBA insurance company investment authority,” according to an S. 2856 summary released by the House Financial Services Committee.

Under Gramm-Leach Bliley, a financial holding company can use a merchant banking unit to buy nonfinancial businesses and supervise their operations for several years while trying to sell the businesses, according to Federal Reserve Board officials.

A financial holding company with an insurance company unit can use that unit to buy a nonfinancial company and hold onto it indefinitely.

Today, financial holding companies can use statement stuffers, Web sites and other methods to “cross-market” the goods and services sold by the nonfinancial companies owned by the insurance company units.

Financial holding companies cannot cross-market the goods and services sold by the nonfinancial companies owned by the merchant banking units.

Federal Reserve Board officials have recommended that Congress eliminate the marketing gap and let financial holding companies market the products of merchant banking units’ portfolio companies as aggressively as they market the products of insurance units’ portfolio companies.