Mary Miller, U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Domestic Finance (Courtesy Treasury.gov)

The Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) is in the final stages of evaluating an initial set of nonbank financial companies for potential designation as SIFI, or systemically important financial institutions, according to remarks made today by Mary Miller, U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Domestic Finance.

However, Miller cautioned that careful assessments of these firms, which include AIG and Prudential Financial, take time.

The hope is that the FSOC will vote up or down on the SIFI designations “in the next few months,” said Miller, who was speaking before the Annual Washington Conference of the Institute of International Bankers (IIB) this morning.  

In a telephone interview last week with Bloomberg News, Sheila Bair called FSOC spineless in not designating nonbank SIFIs.

“It’s lack of will, it’s lack of courage, it’s lack of spine,” Bair said in a telephone interview Feb. 28 with Bloomberg News. “You can quote me on that and they’ll be angry with me, but I don’t care. This is outrageous.”

Bair, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., now heads the Systemic Risk Council, a private watchdog group focused on regulatory issues.  

The SIFI designation will subject the companies it applies to enhanced prudential standards and supervision by the Federal Reserve. Asset management businesses that make up a large part of some insurers may at some point come under these standards and have to reckon with them.

The designations are “not a power the Council (now headed by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew) wields cavalierly,” Miller stated.

FSOC wants to make sure that it gets the designations right, and the data is watertight – it does not want a situation that could be easily appealed, the remarks convey. 

The benefits of strengthened coordination go beyond regulatory implementation, Miller said. She pointed to FSOC’s ability “to quickly bring the key regulators together to respond to such events as the failure of MF Global and the disruption to financial markets caused by Superstorm Sandy,” as evidence of FSOC’s strength and nimbleness.

“Since October 2010, we have designed a rigorous designation process that is thorough and fair and takes into account both quantitative data and qualitative judgment.  The Council is evaluating the potential for companies to pose a threat to financial stability based on a broad array of factors,” she stated.

She was speaking broadly on Dodd Frank regulatory reforms in the month, as she noted, that marks the five-year anniversary of the failure of Bear Stearns and the start of the financial crisis and biggest recession our country has experienced since the Great Depression. The FSOC comments were just a small part of the overall speech.

However, she noted that FSOC can also help promote collaboration among U.S. regulators on international regulatory issues.  She said U.S. representatives to groups such as the Financial Stability Board and the International Association of Insurance Supervisors  (IAIS) are able to use the FSOC as a means of sharing information and collaborating with a broader group of domestic colleagues on international efforts. IAIS has been the most recent conduit of information on confidential data from U.S. insurers feeding to the IAIS on its oversight initiatives.