Why Ask Treasury to Fix the De-Risking Problem When They May Have Caused It?

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Date: 
October 22, 2015
Author: 
Andrea Hall

Is it any wonder that the U.S. Treasury Department refuses to come to the aid of “de-risked” charities? It appears that they were driving this train all along.

A December 2014 report by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform indicates that DOJ and Treasury in fact had a hand in the current de-risking crisis that’s shutting humanitarian aid groups out of the financial system. 

“Operation Choke Point” was originally set up by the Obama administration to “choke” payday lenders, but it soon became a runaway freight train. According to an October 19 article in American Banker, “Disturbingly, the U.S. Department of Justice and the primary regulator of more than 4,700 U.S. banks, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., together operated what was effectively a government-mandated de-risking program through last year.” The program forced banks to end relationships with clients deemed “high-risk,” a term that is also used to describe charities in the Bank Examiners Manual. The threat of fines appeared to apply to any “high-risk” client, beyond those industries named by the program as examples. Consequently, banks left and continue to exit these “high-risk” sectors.

Indeed, Money Transfer Networks and correspondent banking were heavily impacted by this program. You can now start connecting the dots to nonprofits—many de-risked charities have speculated that pressure on correspondent banking systems caused the loss of their accounts.

Although the program officially ended last year, the effects continue to be felt by nonprofit organizations and others who have had to scramble to find financial services to keep their operations going. The question remains as to whether the pressure from feds to drop entire classes of clients continues to this day, despite public statements that banks should take an individualized approach. 

In a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house, investigations continue within Treasury and DOJ. The Congressional report is a better oversight of this problem, but Treasury needs to undo the damage caused to U.S. charities.