|Photo: SheepGuardingLlama. Used under Creative Commons license.|
Can you name the eight largest banks in the U.S.? Seven of them are easy – Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo. Then there’s Taunus at 60 Wall Street, New York. You mean to say you haven’t heard of Taunus? Well, you’d be even more surprised to learn it doesn’t even appear on the list of the top 50 banks maintained by the Federal Reserve.
Visit the 23 year old 55 story skyscraper and you might still be confused because for all practical purposes the building is occupied by employees of Deutsche Bank. Scratch a little deeper and you will soon discover that Taunus is the name of the holding company that controls Deutsche Bank and by rights should be counted as the eighth largest bank in the U.S. because its $354 billion of assets and 8,652 employees put it slightly ahead of the next contender.
In February, Deutsche Bank changed the listing for Taunus Corp. from a "financial holding company" to "domestic entity—other” Poof! Without even a puff of smoke, Taunus/Deutsche Bank disappeared from the list of the top 50 banks maintained by the Federal Reserve.
This was after the German bank spent $3.4 million lobbying on Capitol Hill in 2010 followed by $2.2 million in 2011, according to numbers compiled by Deutsche Welle, the German public broadcast network. (By comparison Bank of America spent $3.7 million in 2011 and Goldman Sachs, generally considered to be the most politically connected Wall Street firm, spent $6.1 million) Deutsche Bank, like many others on Wall Street, apparently was concerned about the Dodd-Frank act, the 2010 law to improve transparency and accountability in financial institutions.
"Deutsche Bank has extensive business activities in the US and is subject to the rules and regulations there," Deutsche Bank spokesman Ronald Weichert told the German broadcaster by e-mail in response to a query about why it spent so much money on lobbying.
Deutsche Welle has a theory for why Deutsche Bank spent the money. At stake was an extra $20 billion that Taunus needed to keep on hand to comply with the new law which increased the minimum amount of money required in reserve to prove they were fiscally solvent. The Federal Reserve had previously given Taunus a waiver from the higher capital requirements, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article but Dodd-Frank made the waiver moot.
By delinking Taunus from a Deutsche Bank trust company, Tanuas was converted to doing just investment banking, which then allowed it change its listing with the Federal Reserve to "domestic entity—other” where it was no longer subject to the stricter new rules. (Deutche Bank is the second foreign institution to do this – after Barclays of the UK)
“Deutsche Bank in particular had been given some extraordinary and hard to believe advantages," Simon Johnson, a former International Monetary Fund chief economist, told Deutsche Welle. "They wanted to have very little capital in the (Taunus) operation to keep it as a highly leveraged and highly risky business and they were allowed to do that.”
Footnote: The name Taunus comes from the parent Deutsche Bank which is headquartered on Taunusanlage in Frankfurt. Taunus is also the name of a low mountain range visible from the Germany’s financial capital.