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Has something finally broken the financial system?

Written by: Benjamin Bimson CIMA®, CMT® / CIO, Trek Financial

After the Federal Reserve bank hiked interest rates over 4.75% in roughly a year, the banking industry has shown signs of challenges. Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on Friday, March 10th. Two days later, Signature Bank was shut down by regulators.

Since that time, news agencies have reported on other banks that have struggled with the economic environment created by rapidly increased interest rates and depositor anxiety. There is no shortage of opinions in the news outlets and a few wake-up calls to depositors as well. After all, these two banks represent the 2nd and 3rd largest banks to ever fail in the United States.1,2

A look at how it happened

It is important to understand what happened at the two banks that led to their downfall. SVB and Signature Bank had clientele that consisted primarily of technology companies, private equity firms, and cryptocurrencies. These customers also had significant deposits above the FDIC insurance limits. In the case of SVB, more than 90% of deposits were above the insurance limits. 3 Second, the types of companies that used these banks are businesses that are sensitive to rising interest rates and therefore needed to make significant withdraws over the past year to meet obligations. They had built up large cash positions during the COVID crisis and therefore had cash to withdraw. Banks typically purchase treasuries, mortgage back securities, and other approved investments to secure bank deposits. Those investments are also interest rate sensitive. As a result, the banks needed to sell bonds at a loss to offset the withdraws.

After SVB announced a large portfolio loss on March 8th, one of the influential venture capital fund managers recommended portfolio companies withdraw deposits from SVB, which may have sparked the bank run that ultimately led to the failure of the bank.4 Bank runs are extremely rare and this one was at a particularly susceptible bank. Signature bank had a similar exposure as SVB and was seized by regulators before markets reopened on March 13th out of fear of contagion. The depositors were fully backed by FDIC as an extraordinary measure.

In the US and around the world, the banking systems are vast. To make matters more complicated, not all banks are the same. There are small community banks, medium-sized regional banks, and large banking institutions and conglomerates. To some extent, they work the same way. In other ways they are very different. Smaller banks tend to be more specialized and potentially have more homogeneous clientele. If that client-base suffers at the same time as bank stress, trouble is a possibility.

The FDIC exists “to maintain stability and public confidence in the nation’s financial system.”5 It is an independent agency of the federal government, created in 1933 in response to the thousands of bank failures that occurred in the 1920s and 1930s. This is the insurance guarantee program that member banks all pay premiums into in order to secure a limited portion of depositor funds. Today the standard insurance is $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each account ownership category.  

There are different regulatory requirements for banks of different sizes. Therefore, small banks have less regulation than banks that are deemed Globally Systemically Important Banks (G-SIBs). In addition to giant banks, there are other large banks deemed domestically systematically important banks. Collectively, these banks are often referred to as “too big to fail.” The implication is that due to the global financial crisis of 2008, there is little appetite to allow any of these banking institutions to fail. Credit Suisse is a recent example of what happens when a G-SIB bank begins to have financial pressures. Extraordinary efforts are made to support the bank. In this example, the Swiss National bank and UBS coordinated a sale of Credit Suisse to UBS. 6,7

With all of the recent bank stress and concern in the market, the Federal Reserve hiked rates again on March 22nd and noted the bank situation in their press release.8 Notable is the likeliness of credit conditions to tighten globally as a result of the banking stress. However, the Fed remained steadfast in their commitment to bring inflation down.

Should we be concerned?

Anxiety is understandable in a very complex financial landscape amidst uncertainty. It can be helpful to understand how this current stress compares to past stressors that regulators and policy makers have navigated. Here is a chart showing how the current global stress compares since 2007.

Given that the stress is not significantly higher than other moments of crisis, and that regulators have been able to navigate more extreme timeframes, the current situation is likely to be more of a headline risk or isolated to a few banks with higher-than-average risk. A headline risk is a risk that occurs when something is being talked about so much in a negative way that it creates fear of what may happen in the future absent any defined and quantified actual risk. Isolated situations, like SVB and Signature Bank failures, are likely to have more information that will show the uniqueness of each failure as investigations are made by regulators.

Certainly we are beginning to see the affects of higher interest rates showing what institutions were weaker than previously known. This is a feature of slowing economic growth. Investors can protect themselves in a number of ways and even take advantage of opportunities in this environment.

Talking to your advisor about what options are available can be helpful in determining what options are available to savers in a higher interest rate environment. There are also steps savers can take to make sure that their deposits are safe by simply knowing how to position accounts to help protect against unnecessary worry.


  1., 2023.
  2., 2023.
  3., 3-2023.
  4., 2023.
  6., 2016.
  7., 2023.
  8., 2023.

Investment Advisory Services offered through Trek Financial LLC., an (SEC) Registered Investment Advisor.

Information presented is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered specific investment advice, does not take into consideration your specific situation, and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any securities or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and are not guaranteed, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. For specific tax advice on any strategy, consult with a qualified tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Trek 23-535

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