What Agencies Oversee U.S. Financial Institutions?

Here’s how banks, the stock market, and other major institutions are regulated

There are numerous agencies assigned to regulate and oversee financial institutions and financial markets in the United States, including the Federal Reserve Board (FRB), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Though the effectiveness with which these regulatory entities do their job is sometimes questioned, each was established to provide sensible regulation of markets and protection for investors and consumers.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial institutions in the United States are regulated by an assortment of federal agencies.
  • State agencies are often involved as well, especially in the regulation of insurance products.
  • The stock market is overseen by both the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and its own self-regulatory organizations.

Who Regulates Banks?

Banks in the United States are regulated on either the federal or state level, depending on how they are chartered. Some are regulated by both. The federal regulators are:

  • The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)
  • The Federal Reserve System
  • The FDIC

Here is a look at each of those agencies and their responsibilities:

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is among the oldest of all the federal regulatory agencies, established in 1863 by the National Currency Act. Part of the Treasury Department, it regulates national banks, federal savings associations, and the operating subsidiaries of national banks and federal savings associations.

Federal Reserve System

Probably the best-known of all the banking regulatory agencies in the U.S. is the Federal Reserve System, commonly referred to as the Fed. Its regulatory authority extends to certain state-chartered banks, bank and financial holding companies, foreign banking organizations, and some nonbank financial institutions. Because it has authority over bank holding companies, it is responsible for regulating many of the nation’s largest banks.

Nationally chartered banks must be members of the Fed, although they are supervised by the OCC.

The Fed is the central bank of the United States, responsible for regulating the financial system and managing monetary policy. Its primary monetary policy tool is open market operations that control the buying and selling of U.S. Treasury and federal agency securities. Such purchases and sales determine the federal funds rate and, in turn, affect interest rates throughout the economy.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) is a U.S. government corporation created by the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 in the wake of the widespread bank failures during the Great Depression. It provides deposit insurance that guarantees depositor accounts up to certain limits at its member banks.

The FDIC also supervises state-chartered banks that are not members of the Fed.

Who Regulates Credit Unions?

As with banks, credit unions in the United States can be regulated on the federal or state level, depending on how they are chartered.

Federal credit unions are chartered and regulated by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), an independent federal agency established in 1970. The NCUA also insures deposits at federal credit unions, much like the FDIC does for its member banks.

State-chartered credit unions are regulated by their respective states. Some also may be insured through the NCUA.

Who Regulates Savings and Loan Associations?

Savings and loan associations, also known as S&Ls or thrifts, at one time had their own federal regulator: the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS). After the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, however, the OTS was dissolved and its regulatory responsibilities were divided up among the OCC (federal savings associations), the Fed (savings and loan holding companies), and the FDIC (state-chartered savings associations).

Who Regulates Mortgage Lenders?

Because mortgage lenders are primarily banks, credit unions, and savings and loans, they are regulated to a large extent by the relevant federal agency listed above. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has supervisory authority over nonbank mortgage originators and servicers, as well as over banks, thrifts, and credit unions with assets over $10 billion, and their affiliates, regarding their compliance with federal consumer financial laws.

Mortgage loan officers and mortgage brokers are licensed by the states.

Who Regulates the Stock Market?

The principal regulator of the stock market in the U.S. is the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), established in 1934 by the Securities Exchange Act. It oversees the securities exchanges and securities firms as well as self-regulatory organizations such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). It describes its mission as “protecting investors, maintaining fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitating capital formation.”

The SEC also oversees the Securities Investor Protection Corp. (SIPC), a private, nonprofit corporation that insures the securities and cash in the customer accounts of member brokerage firms if those firms fail (but not against other losses).

Most types of securities sold in the U.S. must be registered with the SEC, although there are certain exceptions, such as limited private offerings and securities issued by municipal and state governments or the federal government. In general, broker-dealer firms that buy and sell securities must be registered with the SEC and be members of FINRA. Individual brokers (also known as registered representatives) must be registered with FINRA and licensed by their state securities regulator.

Who Regulates the Insurance Industry?

The insurance industry in the U.S. is overseen primarily on the state level, and regulations can vary from state to state. To do business in a state, insurers must be licensed by that state’s insurance department. Insurance salespeople also must be licensed.

State insurance departments set a number of rules, including capital and surplus requirements, to make it more likely that insurers will be able to pay their policyholders’ claims. They also may have the authority to review and approve or reject proposed rate increases.

To protect policyholders against insurer insolvencies, states also have guaranty associations, which will cover claims up to certain limits.

In 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act established the Federal Insurance Office (FIO), as part of the U.S. Treasury Department. The office has no regulatory authority but serves in an advisory capacity to monitor the industry, particularly “the extent to which traditionally underserved communities and consumers have access to affordable non-health insurance products.”

Who regulates cryptocurrencies like bitcoin?

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are largely unregulated. However, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 33 states plus Puerto Rico had legislation regarding cryptocurrency pending in the 2021 legislative session, and 17 states had enacted legislation or adopted resolutions. So, regulation of some kind may be on its way.

Who regulates real estate transactions?

Real estate transactions are subject to numerous federal and state laws. Real estate agents and brokers are licensed on the state level.

Who regulates pension plans?

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, is responsible for administering and enforcing the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which covers most private-sector pension plans, including both defined-benefit plans (traditional pensions) and defined-contribution plans (such as 401(k)s). The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC), also a federal agency, insures private defined-benefit plans, but not defined-contribution plans, up to certain limits.

The Bottom Line

Financial institutions, financial markets, and financial products in the United States are largely overseen by federal agencies and subject to federal laws. The major exception is the insurance industry, which is regulated primarily by the individual states.

Article Sources
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  2. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Education. “What Is the Fed?: What Is the Fed: Supervision and Regulation.”

  3. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Education. “Are All Commercial Banks Regulated and Supervised by the Federal Reserve System, or Just Major Commercial Banks?

  4. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. “Deposit Insurance: Deposit Insurance FAQs.”

  5. National Credit Union Administration. “About NCUA.”

  6. Congressional Research Service. “Who Regulates Whom? An Overview of the U.S. Financial Regulatory Framework.”

  7. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Institutions Subject to CFPB Supervisory Authority.”

  8. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “What We Do.”

  9. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “About Trading and Markets.”

  10. Investor.gov (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission). “Registration Under the Securities Act of 1933.”

  11. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. “Registered Financial Professionals.”

  12. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “State Insurance Regulation.”

  13. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “Statutory Minimum Capital and Surplus Requirements.”

  14. U.S. Department of the Treasury. “Federal Insurance Office.”

  15. National Conference of State Legislatures. “Cryptocurrency 2021 Legislation.”

  16. U.S. Department of Labor. “Retirement Plans Benefits and Savings.”

  17. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. “General FAQs About PBGC.”

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