Bank Oversight:

Few Cases of Tying Have Been Detected

GGD-97-58: Published: May 8, 1997. Publicly Released: May 20, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on banks' compliance with the tying provisions of the Bank Holding Company Act Amendments of 1970, focusing on: (1) evidence of tying abuses by banks and their affiliates and regulatory efforts to ensure compliance with the provisions; (2) views on the tying provisions expressed by representatives of securities and insurance firms and independent insurance agents; and (3) views on the tying provisions expressed by representatives of banks and the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).

GAO noted that: (1) it found limited evidence of tying activity by banks; (2) Federal Reserve and OCC officials GAO interviewed were aware of only one violation identified during routine bank examinations or hold company inspections since 1990; (3) from January 1990 through September 1996, the Federal Reserve and OCC received and investigated 13 tying-related complaints, only 3 of which resulted in actions against the bank or holding company; (4) bank regulators' special investigation of seven large bank holding companies and four large banks in response to a 1992 tying complaint identified only one instance of tying that led to regulatory action; (5) GAO's interviews with state regulators, small business groups, and others identified little evidence of tying violations, although it was suggested that the limited evidence could be based, at least in part, on borrowers' reluctance to report violations for fear of jeopardizing their banking relationships; (6) those representatives of securities and insurance firms and independent insurance agents GAO contacted that expressed concern about tying advocated maintaining or strengthening the tying provisions as a way of offsetting the competitive advantages they believe banks enjoy; (7) some industry representatives and academic experts interviewed said that a more important consideration than the banking industry's share of the credit market is the availability of credit; (8) bank industry representatives viewed the tying provisions as impairing banks' ability to maximize the economic benefits they might otherwise obtain by offering complementary services; (9) some banking representatives also said that banks' evolving role as only one of many providers of credit makes them less able to coerce customers into accepting tied products or services; (10) with regard to banks' access to the discount window and federal deposit insurance, banking representatives pointed out that, with recent legislative changes, it is now easier for the Federal Reserve to lend directly to various financial firms with liquidity needs in a crisis, not just banks; (11) while the Federal Reserve chose not to take an official position on the need for the tying provisions, OCC cited the provisions' importance in making banks aware of their responsibilities to customers as they provide an increasing array of products and services; and (12) some regulatory staff expressed the belief that the tying provisions may have a deterrent effect, but others believed increased competition in the marketplace makes it difficult for banks to force a borrower into a tying arrangement.

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