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Biden reassures bank customers and says the failed firms' leaders are fired

"We must get the full accounting of what happened and why," President Biden said of the banking crisis, speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday.
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"We must get the full accounting of what happened and why," President Biden said of the banking crisis, speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday.

Updated March 13, 2023 at 9:52 AM ET

President Biden says customers of U.S. banks should have confidence that their money will be there when they need it, as he seeks to limit the damage done by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and other problems. He also promised accountability for leaders and investors of banks that fail.

Biden's words didn't prevent anxiety over the banking emergency from hammering stock prices of financial institutions on Monday morning. The pain was particularly acute for regional and middle-sized banks.

The banking emergency has prompted federal regulators to take extraordinary actions to close two banks and guarantee all their deposits.

Because of those actions, Biden said, "every American should feel confident that their deposits will be there if and when they need them."

Companies with accounts at the collapsed banks "can breathe easier, knowing they'll be able to pay their workers and pay their bills," Biden said. "Their hardworking employees can breathe easier as well."

Biden tries to calm markets, but stocks fall

Biden spoke from the White House at 9 a.m. ET Monday, just 30 minutes before the New York stock market opened. But one hour into trading, a number of banking stocks were down.

Many eyes are on First Republic Bank, the San Francisco institution whose clients include tech companies and wealthy investors. The bank's stock plummeted below the $20 mark early Monday — one week after it closed at $122.

Bank of America and Wells Fargo also saw their stock prices slip, both of them falling by 4% or more in the first hour of trading.

Biden says actions won't use taxpayers' funds

Silicon Valley Bank now stands as the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history, after the 2008 collapse of Washington Mutual Bank. Biden stressed that while customers' deposits are protected, "no losses will be borne by the taxpayers."

The president spoke as regulators strive to shore up confidence in the banking system and prevent runs like the one that triggered the stunning collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and New York-based Signature Bank. In recent days, officials and experts have used the word "contagion" to describe the danger of turmoil spreading to more institutions.

The crisis poses both economic and political risks, as the Biden administration balances the twin goals of dampening ripple effects from the banks' failures while avoiding the political spectacle of giving a full bailout to Silicon Valley Bank, which caters to tech firms and venture capitalists.

Biden emphasized that no taxpayer money will go toward resolving the crisis.

"Instead, the money will come from the fees the banks pay into the deposit insurance fund," he said.

A Brinks armored truck sits in front of the shuttered Silicon Valley Bank headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., on March 10. Regulators shut the bank down and say all deposits are backstopped.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
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Getty Images
A Brinks armored truck sits in front of the shuttered Silicon Valley Bank headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., on March 10. Regulators shut the bank down and say all deposits are backstopped.

Banks' investors and leaders won't be bailed out, Biden says

Laying out highlights of his administration's response, Biden said the banks' leaders will face repercussions.

"The management of these banks will be fired," he said. "If the bank is taken over by FDIC, the people running the bank should not work there anymore."

Biden added, "investors in the banks will not be protected. They knowingly took a risk, and when the risk didn't pay off, investors lose their money. That's how capitalism works."

In a bid to contain the crisis, the Biden administration announced on Sunday that customers of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank would have full access to their deposits, even if their account totals were above the maximum $250,000 covered by federal insurance.

Giving new details about his administration's response, Biden also promised a "full accounting of what happened and why," so anyone who acted in an irresponsible way can be held accountable.

To prevent similar situations from recurring, Biden said he would ask Congress and regulators to strengthen the rules, which he said had been weakened during the Trump administration.

The president has directed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard to coordinate regulators' responses to the banking crisis. The solution they reached, he said on Sunday, "protects workers, small businesses, taxpayers and our financial system."

Fallout over Silicon Valley Bank is also hitting other countries. In the U.K., banking officials quickly orchestrated the sale of Silicon Valley Bank UK, the beleaguered company's affiliate, to HSBC, the largest bank in Europe.

"Today the government and the Bank of England have facilitated a private sale of Silicon Valley Bank UK," Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said, adding that customers "can bank as normal."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.