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Big Banks Craft 'Living Wills' in Case They Fail

Five of the biggest banks in the United States are putting finishing touches on plans for going out of business as part of government-mandated contingency planning that could push them to untangle their complex operations.

Five of the biggest banks in the United States are putting finishing touches on plans for going out of business as part of government-mandated contingency planning that could push them to untangle their complex operations.

The plans, known as living wills, are due to regulators no later than July 1 under provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law designed to end too-big-to-fail bailouts by the government. The living wills could be as long as 4,000 pages.

Since the law allows regulators to go so far as to order a bank to divest subsidiaries if it cannot plan an orderly resolution in bankruptcy, the deadline is pushing even healthy institutions to start a multi-year process to untangle their complex global operations, according to industry consultants.

"The resolution process is now going to be part of the cost-benefit analysis on where banks will do business," said Dan Ryan, leader of the financial services regulatory practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York. "The complexity of the organizations will shrink."

JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp, Citigroup Inc, Goldman Sachs & Co and Morgan Stanley are among those submitting the first liquidation scenarios to regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, according to people familiar with the matter.

The five firms, which declined to discuss their plans for this story, have some of the biggest balance sheets, trading desks and derivatives portfolios of financial institutions in the United States.

Great Britain and other major countries are imposing similar requirements for "resolution" plans on their big banks, too.

The liquidation plans are coming amid renewed questions about the safety of big banks following JPMorgan's stunning announcement last month that a trading debacle has cost it more than $2 billion - a sum far too small to endanger the bank, but shocking enough to bring back memories of the financial crisis.

A NOD TO GLASS-STEAGALL

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