Do FDIC’s Private Equity Guidelines Apply Or Not?

On Monday, I wrote briefly about the late December acquisition of failed bank First Federal by OneWest, the bank formerly known as Indymac. Specifically, I wanted to know if the deal would require OneWest and/or its First Federal unit to meet new FDIC guidelines for PE-backed bank ownership.

For the uninitiated: OneWest was purchased by private equity investors shortly before the guidelines were enacted, thus allowing it to be grandfathered in. One result is that OneWest is required to keep a Tier One leverage ratio of at least 8%, as opposed to the more onerous 10% minimum required by the six-month-old guidelines.

What’s been amazing, so far, is that no one at FDIC has been able to answer the question. In fact, the FDIC first tried sending me over to the Office of Thrift Supervision (which oversees OneWest), but they sent me back to the FDIC (which actually picked the First Federal buyer). This is a very simple yes/no question, and FDIC is acting as if I asked them to translate the Dead Sea Scrolls.

My best guess right now is that OneWest’s grandfatherly status shielded it from the FDIC guidelines, which would mean there is a glaring loophole. This isn’t about agreeing with the guidelines, but rather about disagreeing with IndyMac’s PE owners getting preferential treatment because they bought the bank in March rather than August. If the FDIC believes private equity owners need tougher oversight, then it believes private equity owners need tougher oversight. Some consistency would be welcome. So would an answer to my simple question.