San Francisco Fed Ties to S.V.B. Chief Attracts Scrutiny to Century-Old Setup

When Congress and the White House created the Fed in 1913, they were skeptical about giving either the government or the private sector unilateral power over the nation’s money supply. So they compromised. They created a public Fed Board in Washington, alongside quasi-private reserve banks around the country.

Those reserve banks, which ended up numbering 12 in total, would be set up like private companies with banks as their shareholders. And much like other private companies, they would be overseen by boards — ones that included bank representatives. Each of the Fed reserve banks has nine board members, or directors. Three of them come from banks, while the others come from other financial companies, businesses, and labor and community groups.

“The setup is the way that it is because of the way the Fed was set up in 1913,” said William Dudley, the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who said that the directors served mainly as a sort of advisory focus group on banking issues and operational issues, like cybersecurity.

Several former Fed officials said that the bank-related board members provided a valuable function, offering real-time insight into the finance industry. And 10 current and former Fed employees interviewed for this article agreed on one point: These boards have relatively little official power in the modern era.

While they vote for changes on a formerly important interest rate at the Fed — called the discount rate — that role has become much less critical over time. Board members select Fed presidents, though since the 2010 Dodd Frank law, the bank-tied directors have not been allowed to participate in those votes.

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