This testimony discusses our review of the March 2023 bank failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. 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.
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.
This testimony was a request. 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.
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.
For more information, contact Michael Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.