Seal of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

WASHINGTON, D. C.  20551


SR 90-20 (FIS)
June 22, 1990


SUBJECT: Bank Holding Company Funding and Liquidity

                        A key principle underlying the Federal Reserve's supervision of bank holding companies is that such companies should be operated in a way that promotes the soundness of their subsidiary banks.  Holding companies are expected to avoid funding strategies or practices that could undermine public confidence in the liquidity or stability of their banks.  Consequently, bank holding companies should develop and maintain funding programs that are consistent with their lending and investment activities and that provide adequate liquidity to the parent company and its nonbank subsidiaries.

Funding and Liquidity

                        A principal objective of a parent bank holding company's funding strategy should be to support capital investments in subsidiaries and long-term assets with capital and long-term sources of funds.  Long-term or permanent financing not only reduces funding and liquidity risks, but also provides an organization with investors and lenders that have a long-run commitment to its viability.  Long-term financing may take the form of term loans, long-term debt securities, convertible debentures, subordinated debt, and equity.

                        In general, liquidity can be measured by the ability of an organization to meet its maturing obligations, convert assets into cash with minimal loss, obtain cash from other sources, or roll over or issue new debt obligations.  A major determinant of a bank holding company's liquidity position is the level of liquid assets available to support maturing liabilities.  The use of short-term debt, including commercial paper, to fund long-term assets can result in unsafe and unsound banking conditions, especially if a bank holding company does not have alternative sources of liquidity or other reliable means to refinance or redeem its obligations.  In addition, commercial paper proceeds should not be used to fund corporate dividends or pay current expenses.  Funding mismatches can exacerbate an otherwise manageable period of financial stress or, in the extreme, undermine public confidence in an organization's viability. For this reason, bank holding companies, in managing their funding positions, should control liquidity risk by maintaining an adequate cushion of liquid assets to cover short-term liabilities.  Holding companies should at all times have sufficient liquidity and funding flexibility to handle any runoff, whether anticipated or unforeseen, of commercial paper or other short-term obligations -- without having an adverse impact on their subsidiary banks.

                        This objective can best be achieved by limiting the use of short-term debt to funding assets that can be readily converted to cash without undue loss.  It should be emphasized, however, that the simple matching of the maturity of short-term debt with the stated or nominal maturity of assets does not, by itself, adequately assure an organization's ability to retire its short-term obligations if the condition of the underlying assets precludes their timely sale or liquidation.  In this regard, it is particularly important that parent company advances to subsidiaries be considered a reliable source of liquidity only to the extent that they fund assets of high quality that can readily be converted to cash.  Consequently, effective procedures to monitor and ensure on an ongoing basis the quality and liquidity of the assets being funded by short-term debt are critical elements of a holding company's overall funding program.

                        Bank holding companies should establish and maintain reliable funding and contingency plans to meet ongoing liquidity needs and to address any unexpected funding mismatches that could develop over time.  Such plans could include reduced reliance on short-term purchased funds, greater use of longer-term financing, appropriate internal limitations on parent company funding of long-term assets, and reliable alternate sources of liquidity.  It is particularly important that bank holding companies have reliable plans or backup facilities to refinance or redeem their short-term debt obligations in the event the assets being funded by these obligations cannot be liquidated in a timely manner when the debt must be repaid.  In this connection, holding companies relying on backup lines of credit for contingency plan purposes should seek to arrange standby facilities that will be reliable during times of financial stress, rather than facilities that contain clauses which may relieve the lender of the obligation to fund the borrower in the event of a deterioration in the borrower's financial condition.

                        In developing and carrying out funding programs, bank holding companies should avoid over-reliance or excessive dependence on any single short-term or potentially volatile source of funds, such as commercial paper, or any single maturity range.  Prudent internal liquidity policies and practices should include specifying limits for, and monitoring the degree of reliance on, particular maturity ranges and types of short-term funding.  Special attention should be given to the use of overnight money since a loss of confidence in the issuing organization could lead to an immediate funding problem.  Bank holding companies issuing overnight liabilities should maintain on an ongoing basis a cushion of superior quality assets that can be immediately liquidated or converted to cash with minimal loss.  The absence of such a cushion or a clear ability to redeem overnight liabilities when they become due should generally be viewed as an unsafe and unsound banking practice.

Additional Supervisory Considerations

                        Bank holding companies and their nonbank affiliates should maintain sufficient liquidity and capital strength to provide assurance that outstanding debt obligations issued to finance the activities of these entities can be serviced and repaid without adversely affecting the condition of the affiliated bank(s).  In this regard, bank holding companies should maintain strong capital positions to enable them to withstand potential losses that might be incurred in the sale of assets to retire holding company debt obligations.  It is particularly important that a bank holding company not allow its liquidity and funding policies or practices to undermine its ability to act as a source of strength to its affiliated bank(s).

                        The principles and guidelines outlined above constitute prudent financial practices for bank holding companies and most businesses in general.  Holding company boards of directors should periodically assure themselves that funding plans, policies and practices are prudent in light of their organizations' overall financial condition.  Such plans and policies should be consistent with the principles outlined above, including the need for appropriate internal limits on the level and type of short-term debt outstanding and the need for realistic and reliable contingency plans to meet any unanticipated runoff of short-term liabilities without adversely affecting affiliated banks.

                        Reserve Bank examiners should be guided by these principles in evaluating liquidity and in formulating corrective action programs for bank holding companies that are experiencing earnings weaknesses or asset quality problems, or that are otherwise subject to unusual liquidity pressures.  In particular, bank holding companies with less than satisfactory parent or consolidated supervisory ratings (that is, 3 or worse), or any other holding companies subject to potentially serious liquidity or funding pressures, should be asked to prepare a realistic and specific action plan for reducing or redeeming entirely their outstanding short-term obligations without directly or indirectly undermining the condition of their affiliated bank(s).1  Such contingency plans should be reviewed and evaluated by Reserve Bank supervisory personnel during or subsequent to on-site inspections.  Any deficiencies in the plan, if not addressed by management, should be brought to the attention of the organization's board of directors.  If the liquidity or funding position of such a company appears likely to worsen significantly, or if the company's financial condition worsens to a sufficient degree, the company should be expected to implement on a timely basis its plan to curtail or eliminate its reliance on commercial paper or other volatile, short-term sources of funds.  Any decisions or steps taken by Reserve Banks in this regard should be discussed and coordinated with Board staff.

                        The Federal Reserve will also continue to consider liquidity and funding imbalances when reviewing bank holding company applications to acquire additional depository institutions or engage in new or expanded activities. Applications that create or exacerbate short-term funding mismatches, or that otherwise detract from an organization's liquidity, will be subject to denial in the absence of a credible plan to adequately address and correct the problem.

William Taylor
Staff Director


1.  It is important to note that there are securities registration requirements under the Securities Act of 1933 related to the issuance of commercial paper.  A bank holding company should have procedures in place to assure compliance with all applicable securities and SEC requirements.  Return to text

SR letters | 1990