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Bank Regulation: Preliminary Review of Agency Actions Related to March 2023 Bank Failures

GAO-23-106736 Published: Apr 28, 2023. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 2023.
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Fast Facts

In March 2023, Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank suffered two of the largest bank failures in U.S. history. Risky business strategies, weak risk management practices, and weak liquidity drove the failures.

Both banks grew rapidly from 2019-2021—which can signal risk. Further, the growth was fueled heavily by deposits that weren't federally insured.

Federal regulators raised concerns about these risks with the banks but didn't take adequate steps to address them.

Regulators and the Treasury used emergency authorities to protect the banks' uninsured depositors and prevent customers at other banks from withdrawing their funds out of fear.

graphic of bank collapsing onto person

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What GAO Found

Risky business strategies along with weak liquidity and risk management contributed to the recent failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. In both banks, rapid growth was an indicator of risk. In 2019–2021, the total assets of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank grew by 198 percent and 134 percent respectively—far exceeding growth for a group of 19 peer banks (33 percent growth in median total assets). To support their rapid growth, the two banks relied on uninsured deposits, which can be an unstable source of funding because customers with uninsured deposits may be more likely to withdraw their funds during times of stress. Additionally, Silicon Valley Bank was affected by rising interest rates and Signature Bank had exposure to the digital assets industry. The banks failed to adequately manage the risks from their deposits.

In the 5 years prior to 2023, regulators identified concerns with Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, but both banks were slow to mitigate the problems the regulators identified and regulators did not escalate supervisory actions in time to prevent the failures.

  • The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco rated Silicon Valley Bank as satisfactory up until the bank received its first large bank rating in 2022. The Reserve Bank downgraded Silicon Valley Bank in June 2022 and began working on an enforcement action in August 2022. However, it did not finalize the action before the bank failed.
  • The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) took multiple actions to address supervisory concerns related to Signature Bank's liquidity and management, but did not substantially downgrade the bank until the day before it failed.

GAO has longstanding concerns with escalation of supervisory concerns, having recommended in 2011 that regulators consider adding noncapital triggers to their framework for prompt corrective action (to help give more advanced warning of deteriorating conditions). The regulators considered noncapital triggers, but have not added them to the framework, thus missing a potential opportunity to take early action to address deteriorating conditions at banks.

On March 12, 2023, the Secretary of the Treasury approved the systemic risk exception, which authorized FDIC to guarantee insured and uninsured deposits of the two banks. FDIC and the Federal Reserve Board assessed that not guaranteeing the uninsured deposits likely would have resulted in more bank runs and negatively affected the broader economy. The Secretary of the Treasury concurred with this assessment and made the determinations.

After determining that additional banks might need support and to minimize financial contagion, the Federal Reserve created the Bank Term Funding Program on March 12, 2023. The program provides eligible banks with additional liquidity by allowing the 12 Reserve Banks to provide loans of up to 1 year. Federal Reserve staff documented how the program met the requirements for an emergency lending facility under section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act, and Treasury approved the program. As of April 19, 2023, outstanding advances under the program were approximately $74 billion.

Why GAO Did This Study

Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank failed during March 10–12, 2023. At the time of closure, they were among the 30 largest U.S. banks. The failures raised questions about bank management, federal supervision, and the events leading to regulators' decisions to use emergency authorities.

This report examines (1) bank-specific factors that contributed to the failures, (2) supervisory actions regulators took leading up to the failures, (3) the basis for the systemic risk determinations Treasury made, and (4) factors the Federal Reserve and Treasury considered to establish and provide credit protection for the Bank Term Funding Program and the use of the program to date.

GAO reviewed relevant laws and regulations, agency testimonies, and prior GAO reports. GAO also analyzed regulatory financial data from 2018–2022 for the two failed banks and a peer group of banks. GAO reviewed agency documents (including examination records, communications, and analyses on the systemic risk exception and the Bank Term Funding Program). GAO also interviewed Treasury, FDIC, Federal Reserve, and Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco staff. GAO conducted this audit from March to April 2023. GAO will further explore these issues in upcoming work and may report additional findings and relevant information.

For more information, contact Michael E. Clements at (202) 512-8678 or

Full Report

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