Bankruptcy for Banks: A Tribute (and Little Plea) to Jay Westbrook

By David A. Skeel, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania Law School)

Over the past several years, Congress has considered various versions of a legislative reform that would amend the Bankruptcy Code to facilitate the prompt reorganization of systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”). The reform would adapt the “Single Point of Entry” strategy devised for use under Title II of the Dodd Frank Act to bankruptcy. In each context, the assets, short term liabilities, and secured debt of the troubled SIFI would be transferred to a newly created bridge institution, leaving behind its stock and long-term debt. The newly recapitalized bridge institution would be fully solvent, and could contribute liquidity to the troubled subsidiaries as necessary. Although the bankruptcy for banks legislation appears to have strong support in Congress, its reception among bankruptcy scholars has been mixed.

In this short essay, I take the opportunity of a celebration of the work and influence of Jay Westbrook to explore his and his fellow critics’ opposition to bankruptcy for banks. I begin the essay by surveying Jay’s wide-ranging contributions to bankruptcy scholarship. Jay’s functional analysis has had a profound effect on scholars’ understanding of key issues in domestic bankruptcy law, and Jay has been the leading scholarly figure on cross-border insolvency. After surveying Jay’s influence, I turn to the topic at hand: bankruptcy for banks. Jay has been a strong critic of the proposed reforms, arguing among other things that financial institutions need to be resolved by regulators and an administrative process, not bankruptcy. After addressing these and other objections, I ask Jay if he might reconsider his opposition if the legislation were amended to respond to several of his primary concerns.

The essay is available here.

Debt Priority Structure, Market Discipline and Bank Conduct

By Piotr Danisewicz (University of Bristol), Danny McGowan (University of Nottingham), Enrico Onali (Aston University; University of Wales System – Bangor University), and Klaus Schaeck (University of Bristol).

This article explores how changes in debt priority structure affect banks’ funding costs and soundness. We exploit the staggered introduction of depositor preference laws across 15 U.S. states between 1983 and 1993 which confer priority to deposit claims in case of bank liquidation. The laws are exogenous with respect to the outcomes of interest and apply to state-chartered banks but not to nationally-chartered banks, allowing us to isolate causality using difference-in-difference methods.

We document changes in monitoring intensity by various creditors depending on whether creditors move up or down the priority ladder. Enactment of depositor preference reduces deposit interest rates, consistent with the fact that deposit claims are protected in case of bankruptcy thereby reducing depositors’ monitoring incentives. However, non-deposit interest rates increase as these creditors are exposed to greater losses in bankruptcy which leads them to more intensively monitor banks’ conditions.

Subordinating non-depositor claims also reduces banks’ risk-taking and leverage, consistent with market discipline. For example, non-depositors who receive negative signals about project returns may refuse to roll over funds which motivates banks to improve soundness to maintain access to key funding sources such as Fed Funds.

These insights highlight a role for debt priority structure in the regulatory framework, and support recent innovations in banking regulation that reallocate monitoring incentives towards non-depositors.

The full paper can be found here.