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Order in the Meeting: Dealing with Difficult Shareholder Meetings

the-bank-accountOn our twentieth(!) podcast episode of The Bank Account, Jonathan and I take the opportunity to discuss tips for how to approach challenging shareholders or circumstances at your annual meetings.

Unfortunately, Jonathan had a brain freeze during recording, and forgot to use his favorite Mike Tyson quotation, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”  That said, planning ahead for disruptive shareholders is almost always worthwhile.

Providing a written agenda and set of governing rules to attendees can further help establish and maintain order, but it often comes back to simply ensuring that the disgruntled shareholder is provided an opportunity to be heard.

We’re also thrilled to announce that we’ve updated our recording microphones.  While our voices and ideas are unchanged, we hope you will find your listening experience improved.  We also want to thank all of our listeners for their comments and feedback.  We’ve heard from many of you via e-mail, twitter, phone calls and even in person  face-to-face meetings.  As we recorded this episode, we had already reached 5,000 downloads, including listeners in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

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Analysis of FDIC v. Loudermilk Decision

The FDIC’s lawsuit against former directors and officers of the failed Buckhead Community Bank, one of the most closely watched Georgia corporate governance cases in years, went to trial in October, 2016.  The jury returned a verdict of nearly $5 million against the defendants for their role in the approval of four large commercial development loans that later defaulted.  FDIC v. Loudermilk, No. 1:12-cv-04156-TWT (N.D. Ga. Oct. 26, 2016).  It was less than a complete victory for the FDIC, which had sought over $21 million in damages based on ten bad loans, but the verdict nonetheless represents a significant recovery against directors and officers of a Georgia bank.  The case is all the more significant because it was the first known jury trial to evaluate a negligence claim under the business judgment rule as defined by the Georgia Supreme Court earlier on in the proceedings.

Editor’s Note:  This piece is an excerpt from the author’s 2016 Georgia Corporation and Business Organization Case Law Developments, which addresses decisions handed down in 2016 by Georgia state and federal courts addressing questions of Georgia corporate and business organization law.  The year saw a large number of decisions involving limited liability companies, continuing a trend from recent years.  The Georgia Supreme Court addressed some interesting and novel questions of corporate law, including whether an out-of-state LLC (or corporation) can avail itself of the removal right that permits Georgia-based companies to shift certain tort litigation from the county in which it is brought to the county where it maintains its principal office, and whether a nonprofit corporation has standing to pursue a write of quo warranto against public officials.

Buckhead Community Bank was closed by the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance in December, 2009, during the heart of the financial crisis.  The FDIC was named as receiver for the Bank.  In 2012, the FDIC filed suit against the Bank’s former directors and officers, alleging that they pursued an aggressive growth strategy aimed at building a “billion dollar bank,” causing the Bank’s loan portfolio to become heavily concentrated in commercial real estate acquisition and development loans.  The FDIC’s allegations were highly similar to allegations it made in dozens of other cases involving similarly situated banks that failed during the Great Recession.  In all, the FDIC filed over 100 civil actions between 2010 and 2015 in its capacity as its receiver for failed banks throughout the country, 25 of which were filed in Georgia against directors and officers of Georgia banks.  The vast majority of these cases have settled.  In fact, Loudermilk was only the second of these cases to proceed all the way to trial, and the first in Georgia.

As the case progressed to trial, it eventually focused on ten specific loans that were approved directly by the defendants acting as members of the Bank’s loan committee.  As to each of these loans, the FDIC alleged that approving the loans violated the Bank’s own loan policy, banking regulations, prudent underwriting standards and sound banking practices.  For instance, it was alleged that some loans exceeded the Bank’s loan-to-value guidelines but were approved anyway.  Other loans were approved without certain documentation that the FDIC alleged was necessary, such as current financial statements of borrowers and guarantors.  Other loans were allegedly approved before the loan application paperwork was final.  There was no claim that any of the loans were “insider” loans that provided a direct or indirect personal benefit to any of the defendants.

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Mobile Wallets and Tokenization: Banks are Catching On

On April 20, 2017, the American Banker reported that U.S. Bank’s new high-end credit card features an interesting differentiator from the high-end cards recently introduced by other large credit card issuers.  U.S. Bank’s new high-end credit card significantly incents mobile usage over conventional swipe or chip dip for purchases.  While the other card offerings typically provide triple miles for travel and entertainment purchases, the U.S. Bank “Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite” card puts its money on getting cardholders to enroll their cards in mobile wallets – Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and Microsoft Wallet.

For a generation of customers who want to do everything, or as much as possible, on their phones, millennials have not adopted mobile payments as quickly as expected. Personally, I constantly encourage everyone to enroll their cards in the mobile wallet on their phone ASAP and use it that way at every opportunity.

I do that for two reasons –  1) it is much more secure than swiping your stripe or dipping your chip and 2) it is much faster than inserting your chip card at the terminal to complete the transaction.

Plus, it looks really cool to wave your phone at the terminal and “boing” you’re done. I smugly watch the people in line behind me watching this transaction with interest.

The transaction is more secure because the phone wallets keep card credentials in a secure element on the phone, which is highly resistant to hacking, and more importantly, does not transmit real card credentials to the merchant. Instead, the merchant only receives a one-time use tokenized version of your card credentials. This means that if the merchant’s database is hacked, the tokenized version of your card credentials that are exposed are just useless gibberish.

This saves the card issuer from eating losses under Reg Z for unauthorized transactions and crediting your account for charges the hacker racked up on a spending spree for fenceable goods. Actually, most of those unauthorized charges flow back to the merchant who was hacked, but the issuers whose cards are exposed typically do not recover their full costs.

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Do Banks Need a Holding Company?

the-bank-accountOn April 11, 2017, Bank of the Ozarks announced that it would be completing an internal corporate reorganization to eliminate its holding company.  As a result, it will continue as a publicly-traded, stand-alone depository bank, without a bank holding company.

In this episode of The Bank Account, Jonathan and I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the bank holding company structure.  Specific topics include:

  • praise for Bank of the Ozarks innovative approach to further improve its already impressive efficiency,
  • a review of the existing landscape of holding company and non-holding company structures,
  • activities that may require a holding company,
  • size-related thresholds impacting holding company analysis,
  • charter and corporate-governance related elements to the analysis, and
  • the impact the absence of a holding company may have on merger and acquisition activity.

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Do you get Bragging Rights if the Malware Infecting your Computer was Named after Zeus?

Over the last decade as the specter of cyber attacks has increased dramatically, financial institutions have been encouraged to look into the use of cyber fraud insurance as one means of minimizing risk. A recent decision by the 8th Circuit provides an interesting opportunity to see how such policies are going to be interpreted by the courts.

In 2011, an employee at Bellingham State Bank in Minnesota initiated a wire transfer through the Federal Reserve’s FedLine Advantage Plus system (FedLine). Wire transfers were made through a desktop computer connected to a Virtual Private Network device provided by the Federal Reserve. In order to complete a wire transfer via FedLine, two Bellingham employees had to enter their individual user names, insert individual physical tokens into the computer, and type in individual passwords and passphrases. In this instance the employee initiated the wire by inputting the passwords both for herself and the other employee and inserted both of the physical tokens. After initiating the wire the employee left the two tokens in the computer and left it running overnight. Upon returning the next day the employee discovered that two unauthorized wire transfers had been made from Bellingham’s Federal Reserve account to two different banks in Poland. Kirchberg was unable to reverse the transfers through the FedLine system. Kirchberg immediately contacted the Federal Reserve and requested reversal of the transfers, but the Federal Reserve refused. The Federal Reserve, however, did contact intermediary institutions to inform them that the transfers were fraudulent, and one of the intermediary institutions was able to reverse one of the transfers. The other fraudulent transfer was not recovered.

Bellingham promptly notified BancInsure of the loss and made a claim under their financial institution bond which provided coverage for losses caused by such things as employee dishonesty and forgery as well as computer system fraud. After an investigation, it was determined that a “Zeus Trojan horse” virus had infected the computer and permitted access to the computer for the fraudulent transfers. BancInsure denied the claim based on several exclusions in the policy including employee-caused loss exclusions, exclusions for theft of confidential information, and exclusions for mechanical breakdown or deterioration of a computer system. In essence, the policy does not cover losses whose proximate cause was employee negligence or a failure to maintain bank computer systems. Bellingham contested the denial and brought suit in federal court for breach of contract.

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Thoughts on Payment Systems for Banks

the-bank-accountJonathan and I sat down with our colleague, Stan Koppel, on Thursday, April 13th to discuss the intersection of payment systems and banks.   Stan joined Bryan Cave LLP following a 28-year stint with VISA, where he was originally the third lawyer employed.  In this episode of The Bank Account, Stan shares his background and touches on what’s working now and what’s ahead in the payments world for financial institutions.

Topics covered include banking the unbanked, tokenization, the blockchain and machine learning!  Preview of a hot take from Stan… “blockchain is more distracting than disruptive.”

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FRB Lifts Threshold for Financial Stability Review

In its March 2017 approval of People United Financial, Inc.’s merger with Suffolk Bancorp (the “Peoples United Order”), the Federal Reserve Board eased the approval criteria for certain smaller bank merger transactions by expanding its presumption regarding proposals that do not raise material financial stability concerns and providing for approval under delegated authority for such proposals.  The Dodd-Frank Act amended Section 3 of the Bank Holding Company Act to require the Federal Reserve to consider the “extent to which a proposed acquisition, merger, or consolidation would result in greater or more concentrated risks to the stability of the United States banking or financial system.”

In a 2012 approval order, the Federal Reserve established a presumption that a proposal that involves an acquisition of less than $2 billion in assets, that results in a firm with less than $25 billion in total assets, or that represents a corporate reorganization, may be presumed not to raise material financial stability concerns absent evidence that the transaction would result in a significant increase in interconnectedness, complexity, cross-border activities, or other risks factors.  In the Peoples United Order, the Federal Reserve indicated that since establishing this presumption in 2012, its experience has been that proposals involving an acquisition of less than $10 billion in assets, or that results in a firm with less than $100 billion in total assets, generally do not create institutions that pose systemic risks and typically have not involved, or resulted in, firms with activities, structures and operations that are complex or opaque.

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Landscape of the U.S. Banking Industry

From 2006 through 2016, the number of insured depository institutions in the United States has fallen from 8,691 charters to 5,922, a decline of 2,769 charters or a 32% loss.  This headline loss number is worth talking about, but is neither news nor new.  The loss of charters is a frequent source of discussions around bank board rooms, stories from trade press, and chatter at banking conferences.  The number of insured charters has also been in steady decline, with at least 33 years of declining numbers.

However, a deeper dive into the numbers reveals some unexpected trends below the headline 32% loss of charters.

the-bank-accountNote:  We’ve also recorded an accompanying podcast for The Bank Account on the Truth About Industry Consolidation.  The podcast contains additional analysis to the numbers presented here, and is a useful addition, but not a substitute, to this content.  In addition to listening to this episode, we encourage you to click to subscribe to the feed on iTunes, Android, Email or MyCast. It is also now available in the iTunes and Google Play searchable podcast directories.

Links to items mentioned in the podcast, or otherwise potentially of interest on the topic:

 

State of Banking Landscape as of December 31, 2016

As of December 31, 2016, we had 5,922 institutions with $16.9 trillion in total assets.

The four largest depository institutions by asset size (JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citi) hold $6.84 trillion in assets, or 40.5% of the industry’s assets.

There are 111 additional banks that have assets greater than $10 billion, holding $6.98 trillion.  That’s 1.9% of the total charters, holding 81.9% of the aggregate assets.

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Bank Website ADA Litigation Update

Court Dismisses Website Accessibility Case as Violating Due Process, Since DOJ Still Has Not Issued Regulations

Recent court decisions from California and Florida may provide ammunition to retailers battling claims that their websites and mobile applications are inaccessible in violation of Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). As we reported in a previous blog post, banks and other businesses have faced a wave of such demand letters and lawsuits.  Most of these claims settled quickly and confidentially.

However, a California district court recently granted Dominos Pizza’s motion to dismiss under the primary jurisdiction doctrine, which allows courts to stay or dismiss lawsuits pending the resolution of an issue by a government agency. In Robles v. Dominos Pizza LLC, U.S. Dist. Ct. North Dist. Cal. Case No. CV 16-06599 SJO, the court held it would violate Domino’s due process rights to hold that its website violates the ADA, because the Department of Justice still has not promulgated regulations defining website accessibility – despite issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking back in 2010.

The court stated that the DOJ’s application of an industry standard, the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), in statements of interest and consent decrees in other cases does not impose a legally binding standard on all public accommodations. It also noted that those consent decrees indicated flexibility to choose an appropriate auxiliary aid to communicate with disabled customers, and suggested that Domino’s provision of a telephone number for disabled customers may satisfy this obligation. Retailers that do not have an accessible website should therefore provide a toll-free number serviced by live customer service agents who can provide all the information and services available on the website.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules NY Surcharge Law Regulates Speech

What the U.S. Supreme Court Did

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that New York’s statutory ban on merchant’s surcharging customers who choose to pay with credit cards is a regulation of speech and is not merely a regulation of pricing conduct, as the lower court had ruled. New York’s statute, N. Y. Gen. Bus. Law Ann. §518, makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or imprisonment for a merchant to “impose a surcharge on a holder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check or similar means.”  In Expressions Hair Design et al. v. Schneiderman, et al., the Court required the Second Circuit to consider the validity of the law under the First Amendment.  Specifically, the circuit court of appeals must now determine whether the New York law is a valid commercial speech regulation and whether the law can be upheld as a disclosure requirement.  Previously, the Second Circuit ruled that the law regulated conduct, not speech, since it required that the merchant’s prices should be the same whether a customer uses a credit card or cash.

Impact on Merchants and Payment Networks

In short, the status quo remains intact for now, in New York and in the eleven other states that regulate surcharges. The Supreme Court’s action does not immediately uphold or invalidate New York’s anti-surcharge law. Reviving the claim after it had been dismissed by the lower court, the law now must be reviewed again by the court of appeals (and potentially again after that by the Supreme Court) as to whether the law is a valid commercial regulation of speech. This review process could take a while, especially considering that one of the Supreme Court Justices recommended that the federal court of appeals ask New York’s top state court to give it an “accurate picture of how, exactly, the statute works.”

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