The well-publicized settlement this past week of the FDIC’s lawsuit against three former officers of the failed WuMu bank was widely reported as having a value of $64.7 million. A closer look at the parties’ December 15, 2011 settlement agreement reveals some interesting details about the settlement, including the specifics of how the FDIC came up with the reported $64.7 million figure for the settlement. The settlement documents also raise some interesting questions.


Washington Mutual Bank failed on September 25, 2008, in the largest bank failure in U.S. history. As discussed here, in March 2011, the FDIC as receiver for the failed bank filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington against WaMu’s former CEO, Kerry Killinger, its former President and COO, Stephen Rotella, and its chief of home lending, David Schneider. The FDIC’s complaint also names Killinger’s wife, Linda Killinger, and Rotella’s wife, Esther. The three former officers were alleged to have caused the bank’s demise through the aggressive residential lending strategy the bank pursued. The claims against the officials’ wives were based on claims that the spouses had arranged to transfer ownership of residential properties in order to evade creditors.


There was other litigation filed in connection with the events surrounding WaMu’s collapse, including a securities class action lawsuit separately filed against certain former directors and officers of WuMu; the bank’s offering underwriters; and its auditors. As discussed here, in July 2011, the securities class action lawsuit settled for $208.5 million, of which $105 million was to be paid on behalf of the former directors and officers. The entire $105 million amount was to be funded by the bank’s D&O insurance.


Although there were advance reports that the FDIC’s lawsuit against the former WaMu executives had settled, the FDIC did not formally announce the settlement until December 15, 2011. The FDIC’s press release announcing the settlement can be found here. The FDIC also released a detailed summary of the settlement, which can be found here.


As explained in the FDIC’s press release and in the accompanying summary, and as detailed in the parties’ settlement agreement, the $64.7 million settlement consisted of several components. The actual cash component of the settlement totaled only $40 million, of which $39.575 million is to be paid on the individual defendants’ behalf by the bank’s D&O insurers. The various insurers in the D&O insurance program that is contributing to the settlement are identified on page 2 of the settlement agreement, as well as in Exhibit A to the settlement agreement. In addition to the cash amount to be paid by the D&O insurers, a total of $425,000 in cash is to be paid by the three former officers ($275,000 from Killinger; $100,000 from Rotella; and $50,000 from Schneider). 


The remaining $24.7 million nominal value of the settlements consists of the transfer to the FDIC of certain claims the three individuals have filed in connection with the bankruptcy proceedings of WaMu’s corporate parent holding company. The amount and type of these claims varies among the three individuals, but basically the claims consist of various types of retirement, severance or bonus compensation to which the three individuals claim they are entitled.


In addition to the $64.7 million settlement of the FDIC’s action against the three former officers and two of their wives, the FDIC’s December 15 press release also mentions a separate $125 million settlement agreement. Though the information the FDIC provided about the $64.7 million settlement is quite detailed, the FDIC’s press release provides few details regarding this separate $125 million settlement. The press release says only that when the $64.7 million settlement is “combined with the $125 million settlement that the FDIC will receive under the settlement agreement with WMI [the bankrupt holding company] to release its claims against 12 former WaMu directors and other officers, this settlement will result in payments and turn over of claims totaling $189.7 million.”


There are a number of interesting things about the settlement and the settlement documents.


First, the settlement against the three executive officers may have a nominal face value of $64.7 million, but the actual value could prove to be substantially less. The individuals’ claims in the bankruptcy proceeding are among the many claims asserted by unsecured creditors and are also subject to whatever defenses the bankrupt estate may have. The ultimate value the FDIC actually receives from the assignment of these claims might be nowhere near the face values claimed in the various settlement documents.


Second, the D&O insurers’ $39.575 million contribution to the settlement could use a little more elaboration. The D&O insurance program described in the settlement agreement consists of $100 million, arranged in six layers. One might assume that the insurers’ $39.575 million contribution to this settlement represents all or substantially all of the proceeds remaining in the insurance program, owing to the erosion of the limits through the accumulation of defense costs. That is probably what happened, But what is hard to figure is how this insurance and the insurers’ $39.575 million settlement contribution fits in with the other settlements described above, particularly the securities class action settlement and the separate $125 million settlement mentioned in the FDIC’s press release.


As noted above, D&O insurers are to contribute $105 million to the securities class action lawsuit settlement. If this amount seems hard to square with the $100 million insurance program described in the FDIC’s settlement agreement with the three executives, it is probably because the D&O insurance contribution to the securities class action settlement was a drawn from a separate tower of insurance. Indeed, stipulation of settlement relating to D&O portion of the securities class action lawsuit describes a very different insurance program than the one the FDIC describes in the more recent settlement. The class action settlement documents describe a $250 million insurance program (not a $100 million program), consisting of a different line up of carriers than listed in the FDIC settlement documents. Although it is hard to tell from the much less detailed description of the insurance tower in the FDIC’s settlement documents, it looks as if the FDIC settlement is to be funded out of a separate tower of insurance, perhaps relating to a separate policy year.


If it is hard to square the details of the FDIC settlement and the securities class action settlement, the separate $125 million settlement is a real puzzle. The FDIC’s press release does not explain the source of funds for the $125 million settlement. Indeed, it is hard to tell from the FDIC’s press release exactly what is going on with the $125 million settlement. The FDIC’s press release describes it as a “settlement agreement with WMI to release its claims against 12 WaMu directors and other officers.” This sentence is confusingly written, but it seems to suggest that the settlement is between the bankrupt holding company and the FDIC, and the $125 million is to be paid (by whom?) in order to secure from the FDIC a release of the FDIC’s claims against the bank’s former directors and officers.


From the comments about the $125 million settlement in the press, I am making the guess that the bankrupt estate agreed to pay the amount on the theory that if the FDIC sued the various other directors and officers, these directors and officers would be entitled to indemnification. The estate agreed to pay the $125 million, in exchange for the FDIC’s release of its claims, without the FDIC having to actually go through the necessity of actually filing a lawsuit against the other directors and officers.


Whatever else may be said about the $64.7 million settlement, it is undeniable that the three executives were called upon to contribute to the settlement out of their own assets, both in the form of cash contributions and in the form of the surrender of rights the individuals themselves undoubtedly considered to be valuable. I emphasize this because one of the questions I have repeatedly asked during the current banking crisis is whether the FDIC will seek to recover from the personal assets of directors and officers of failed banks. The FDIC’s settlement with the three executive officers shows that the FDIC may indeed seek to recover from the personal assets of individuals. One might speculate that the FDIC’s actions may have something to do with the fact that the WaMu collapse was the largest bank failure in U.S. history. It is hard to know the extent to which that aspect of this settlement is relevant to what approach the FDIC might take in connection with its other failed bank lawsuits.


While the individual executives did indeed contribute toward the settlement out of their own assets, the settlement has been criticized, mostly on the theory that the individuals did not contribute enough. For example, in her December 17, 2011 column in the New York Times, Gretchen Morgenson referred to the $64.7 million settlement as representing only a “pittance” and as “small potatoes.” She gripped that much of the cash value is to be funded by D&O insurance.


For myself, I am unprepared to judge the settlement. I would need to know more about the amounts remaining under the insurance policies. I would also need to understand more about the interaction between the amount of the FDIC’s recovery from the three executives; the three individuals’ rights of indemnification from the bankrupt estate; and the $125 million settlement. (Morgenson suggests that any additional recoveries from the individuals, if indemnified by the estate, would simply reduce the $125 million settlement.)


The reality is that if the FDIC had pressed for greater recovery or a larger settlement, it is possible that all the FDIC would have accomplished would have been further erosion of the remaining D&O insurance limits through the accumulation of additional defense expenses. The end result likely would have been an even smaller recovery. The $64.7 million settlement may not satisfy Morgenson and others, but it may have been the best available.


I will say that one particular criticism of Morgenson’s is misplaced. She disparages the settlement as a “wrist slap” and “yet another example of the minimalist punishment meted out to major players in the credit boom and bust.” Morgenson’s criticism fundamentally misperceives the nature of the FDIC’s action against the WaMu executives.


The FDIC’s action, in its role as WaMu’s receiver, was never intended as a means to administer punishment. Receivership actions are simply salvage operations, intended to try to reduce (or rather, offset) the failed bank’s losses. Whether punishment is to be sought is the business of other agencies and regulators – the Department of Justice, the OCC and the SEC. (Indeed, in the FDIC has referred cases to the DoJ and the SEC where the circumstances surrounding a bank’s failure appear to warrant, as apparently was the case with the failed United Commercial Bank, about which refer here [scroll down]). Whether or not these agencies’ inaction in connection with WaMu’s failure may fairly be criticized, it is not a fair criticism here that the FDIC acting as WaMu’s receiver was insufficiently punitive. The administration of punishment is simply not the FDIC-R’s role.


The FDIC as receiver for the failed WaMu bank sought only to maximize its recovery of dollars, and that I strongly suspect that the settlement they reached with the three executives offered the best opportunity for the agency to maximize its dollar recovery.


Special thanks to a loyal reader for providing me with a link to the FDIC’s settlement agreement.