Silicon Valley Bank Fails Due to Lack of Diversification, Weak Governance, and Hype – Creating a Bank Run

Fig. 1. Silicon Valley Bank Cash Transfer Vehicle, Justin Sullivan, Getty Images, 2023.

#svbfailure #svbbank #siliconvalleybank #cryptobank #venturetech #cryptofraud #bankgovernance #bankcomplaince #FDICSVB

Silicon Valley Bank Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) OCC California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation

The California Department of Financial Protection closed Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) on Fri 03/10/23 and the FDIC took control of and seized its deposits in the largest U.S. banking failure since the 2008 to 2012 mortgage financial crisis, and the second largest ever. Although SVB was well known in San Francisco and Boston where they had all of their 17 branches; they were little to known to the wider public. SVB specialized in financing start-ups and had become the 16th largest U.S. bank by assets. Their numbers at the end of 2022 were impressive with $209 billion in assets and approximately $175.4 billion in deposits.

As a precursor to their failure, SVB recorded six straight quarterly losses as economic conditions turned unfavorable. Then on Mon 02/27/23 their CEO Greg Becker sold $3.6 million of stock in a pre-arraigned 10b5-1 plan designed to reduce conflict of interest, yet it’s still potentially questionable due to the gain he got and the odd timing weeks before their collapse. Yet other executives that sold in recent weeks may not have the protection of the 10b5-1 and that would be a worse example of conflict of interest. 

Some degree of support is needed for SVB because most there are not to blame; but so too is criticism so that the financial system can get better and innovate in the free market. You cannot just blindly support people (mostly sr. mgmt.) and organizations (crypto tie in) who are largely responsible for startup failures, frozen loans and payrolls, huge job loss, loss of deposited money over 250k, and great economic downturn – all the while the SVB mgmt. team gets very rich.

Obviously, the competencies and character of some of the SVB mgmt. team was not as good as other community banks and credit unions who aggressively avoided and overcame such failings. They likely put in more work with a deeper concern for the community, clients, and regulatory compliance – generally speaking. These many small community banks and credit unions are often 90 or 100 plus years old and did not grow at as fast a pace as SVB – super fast growth equals fast failure. Conversely, SVB is only 40 years young and most of its growth happened in the later part of that period. This coming from a guy who has consulted/worked at more than 10 financial institutions among other things including bank launch, tech risk, product, and compliance.

The company’s downward spiral blew up by late Weds 03/08/23, when it surprised investors with news that it needed to raise $2.25 billion to strengthen its balance sheet. This was influenced significantly by the Fed rate increases which forced the bank to raise lending rates, and that in turn made it hard for startups and medium-sized businesses to find approved funding. SVB also locked too much of their capital away in low-interest bonds. To strengthen their balance sheet in a slightly silly and desperate move, SVB sold $21 billion in securities at a large $1.8 billion loss. The details, timing, and governance of this make little sense, since the bank knew regulators were already watching closely. As a result, their stock fell 60% Thurs to $106.04 following the restructuring news.

As would be expected this fueled a higher level of deposit outflows from SVB; a $25 billion decline in deposits in the final three quarters of 2022. This spooked a lot of people, including CFOs, founders, VCs, and some unnamed tech celebrities — most of who started talking about the need to withdraw their money from SVB. SVB had almost 90% of its deposits uninsured by the FDIC which is far out of line with what traditional banks have. This is because the FDIC only covers deposits up to $250k. In contrast, Bank of America has about 32% of its deposits not insured by the FDIC – an enormous difference of 58%.

Crypto firm Circle revealed in a tweet late Fri 03/10/23 that it held $3.3 billion with the bank. Roblox corp. held 5% of its $3 billion in cash ($150 million) at the bank. Video streamer Roku held an estimated $487 million at SVB, representing approximately 26% of the company’s cash and cash equivalents as of Fri. Crypto exchange platform BlockFi — who filed for bankruptcy in November — listed $227 million in uninsured holdings at the bank. Some other SVB customers included Ziprecruiter, Pinterest, Shopify, and CrowdStrike. VCs like Y. Combinator regularly referred startups to them.

Yet after these initial outflows people start talking negatively, the perception became greater than reality. It did not matter whether the bank had a liquidity crisis or not. Heard psychology created a snowball effect in that no one wanted to be the last depositor at a bank — observing the lessons learned from prior banking mortgage crisis from 2008 to 2012 where Washington Mutual failed.

In sum, customers withdrew a massive $42 billion of deposits by the end of Thurs 03/09/23, according to a California regulatory filing. As a result, SIVB stock continued to plummet down another 65% before premarket trading was halted early Fri by regulators.

The FDIC described it this way in a press release:

  1. “All insured depositors will have full access to their insured deposits no later than Monday morning, March 13, 2023. The FDIC will pay uninsured depositors an advance dividend within the next week. Uninsured depositors will receive a receivership certificate for the remaining amount of their uninsured funds. As the FDIC sells the assets of Silicon Valley Bank, future dividend payments may be made to uninsured depositors.
  2. Silicon Valley Bank had 17 branches in California and Massachusetts. The main office and all branches of Silicon Valley Bank will reopen on Monday, March 13, 2023. The DINB will maintain Silicon Valley Bank’s normal business hours. Banking activities will resume no later than Monday, March 13, including on-line banking and other services. Silicon Valley Bank’s official checks will continue to clear. Under the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, the FDIC may create a DINB to ensure that customers have continued access to their insured funds.”

That’s largely a bank run, and it is really bad news for SVB and many startups and medium businesses. SVB has been a foundational piece of the tech startup ecosystem. It was also known to industry commentators and tech risk researchers that SVB struggled with tech risk compliance, overall governance, and even had no chief risk officer in the eight months prior.

With reasoning and no direct evidence, only circumstantial evidence — as I had a couple of interviews with them and was less than impressed with their competency and trajectory — I speculate that crypto ties were a significant negative factor here because many of the companies and tech sub-domains SVB served are entangled with crypto and crypto-related entitles. Examples of this include their dealings with Circle — it manages part of the USDC stablecoin reserve of the American Circle, which confirmed to have a little more than $3 billion dollars of reserve blocked with SVB.

A Fri 03/10/23 Tweet from reporter Lauren Hirsch described BlockFi’s risky crypto entanglements with SVB this way: “Per new bankruptcy filing, BlockFi has $227m in Silicon Valley Bank. The bankruptcy trustee warned them on Mon that bc those funds are in a money market mutual fund, they’re not FDIC secured — which could be a prblm w/ keeping in compliance of bankruptcy law”.

Crypto compliance and insight for a big bank is very complex, undefined, and risk prone. The biggest tech venture bank has to be involved with a few crypto related failings and controversies, and the above are just a few examples but I am sure there are more. I just don’t have the data to back that up now, but I am sure it’s being investigated and/or litigated.

Note * This is a complex, evolving, and new development — some info may be incomplete and/or out of date at the time you view this.

About the Author:

Jeremy Swenson is a disruptive-thinking security entrepreneur, futurist/researcher, and senior management tech risk consultant. Over 17 years he has held progressive roles at many banks, insurance companies, retailers, healthcare orgs, and even governments including being a member of the Federal Reserve Secure Payment Task Force. Organizations relish in his ability to bridge gaps and flesh out hidden risk management solutions while at the same time improving processes. He is a frequent speaker, published writer, podcaster, and even does some pro bono consulting in these areas. As a futurist, his writings on digital currency, the Target data breach, and Google combing Google + video chat with Google Hangouts video chat have been validated by many. He holds an MBA from St. Mary’s University of MN, an MSST (Master of Science in Security Technologies) degree from the University of Minnesota, and a BA in political science from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.

Former FDIC Chair Shelia Bair Comments On Bank Bailouts, Peer-To-Peer Lending, And Tax Reform

On Tues, 04/08/14, former FDIC Chairperson Shelia Bair visited Minneapolis and offered commentary on the financial services industry, peer-to-peer lending, systemic risk, and the recent recession.  Bair is educated as an attorney and was Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the Treasury Dept. and a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst before she moved over to Chair the FDIC from 2006 to 2011.  At the FDIC Bair helped the nation’s financial system out of an exacerbated recession and unprecedented bank run from 2007 to 2010 but not without ruffling a few feathers.

Addressing a sold out crowd including former Congressman Tim Penny and other elected officials, business people, students, and ethically minded community members, Bair had the honor of being the keynote speaker at Saint Mary’s University of MN’s publically broadcasted Hendrickson Forum on Ethical Leadership.  Bair opened her keynote by describing how unimpressed she was that when she arrived at the FDIC in 2006 the organization had little to no info on sub-prime lending and had to buy a database to conduct research on it.  This was in part due to the fact that sub-prime lenders were private and not a part of deposit institutions and thus slightly out of scope for the FDIC at that time.  Bair did not inherit a perfect FDIC, and it can be inferred that the FDIC should have been paying attention to sub-prime lending far sooner as it was directly related to many elements that affect deposit institutions including real estate, entrepreneurship, income and tax, and community redevelopment.


Bair now free from the constraints of holding a Washington office spoke openly about how she felt hindered to speak to the human element of the financial crisis while at the FDIC.  She indicated that although she was a part of the team that brokered the historic bank bailouts (2008-2009), that she has some serious reservations about that, because it was “too generous and uneven” and “helped the banks far more than it helped homeowners and families”.  She also described regular disagreement with then Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and suggested he was too close to many of the bank executives who benefited from the bank bailouts.

She further described miscommunication and lack of collaboration as Geithner worked around her efforts at the FDIC, and the undertone of this was political disagreement over which agency should lead the recession resolution in terms of the banking industry.

At present, Bair supports the Dodd-Frank Act because it favors bankruptcy and a three-year claw back for executives over a bailout in the event of a bank failure.  Although Bair in the past has said she disagreed with Janet Yellen’s support to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, she presently indicated she still supports the new Fed Chair and viewed her as a reliable Washington outsider.


When I directly questioned Bair on the growth of peer-to-peer lending she seemed cautious about its long-term viability citing an unknown regulatory landscape and even recounted that peer-to-peer lender Prosper lost many investors during the worst months of the recession.  In discussion with Bair I observed that she, like many banks, is in a wait and see mode with peer-to peer-lending, but she did indicate that for customers consolidating higher interest rate debt it can be a good thing and that could in turn force banks to be more customer centric with better terms.

Yet I am more optimistic on peer-to-peer lending than Bair in partnership with many respected peer-to-peer investors including Google who invested $125 million in Lending Club and the former CEO of Citi Group, Vikram Pandit.  It is really telling when the former Citigroup CEO goes against his own industry in favor of a tech-heavy new lending model, but he is right because most customers no longer need the big bank branches and elaborate services that are fee heavy.  Moreover, peer-to-peer lenders offer attractive rates, diverse portfolio options, and low operational costs and that keeps investors and borrowers happy.  Just like online news slaughtered traditional print media, as soon as peer-to-peer lending gets more regulatory backing it will slaughter traditional fee-heavy banks if they don’t adapt to this new environment.

When commenting on federal sequestration Bair showed frustration and disagreement over the automatic spending cut approach and instead suggested that tax rates be reduced and restructured in a number of areas to encourage more employment, keep businesses in the U.S., and encourage business innovation which would in turn provide more income and employment thus bringing in a greater amount of taxable income to offset her proposed tax reduction.  This truly can be a helpful aspect of the budget deficit issue in that taxes in the U.S. are far too high and there are some needless loopholes that harm many and help few.  The 2.3% Medical Device Tax is an example of this as it encourages the many medical device companies in MN to move their operations outside the U.S. due to the high tax cost, and it adds to their cost of doing business thus reducing their ability to get favorable loans.

Lastly, as an advocate for consumer protection and creative thinking I asked Bair if she had any insight on what the massive Target data breach might mean for the banking and related industries — where an estimated 10-15% of the 40 million affected cards have encountered some type of fraud — and she reminded me that the banks are taking the losses before the retailer does.  Although she offered no specifics other than suggesting that debit cards are more relevant, she shared my concern that data security is a growing factor in financial regulation yet I was then reminded that Bair is more of a politician and economist than a technologist.  Yet from an economic policy standpoint if the nation encounters more data breaches like this it could drive the cost of goods up thus forcing more costly and secure card payment products perhaps with biometrics on them.

Photos by Rick Busch.

Written by Jeremy Swenson (c)