The two-year-old program, which has been largely secret until now, is in addition to the "living wills" the banks crafted to help regulators dismantle them if they actually do fail. It shows how hard regulators are working to ensure that banks have plans for worst-case scenarios and can act rationally in times of distress.
Officials like Lehman Brothers former Chief Executive Officer Dick Fuld have been criticized for having been too hesitant to take bold steps to solve their banks' problems during the financial crisis.
According to documents obtained by Reuters, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency first directed five banks, which also include Citigroup Inc,, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co, to come up with these "recovery plans" in May 2010.
They told banks to consider drastic efforts to prevent failure in times of distress, including selling off businesses, finding other funding sources if regular borrowing markets shut them out and reducing risk. The plans must be feasible to execute within three to six months, and banks were to "make no assumption of extraordinary support from the public sector," according to the documents.
Spokespeople for the five banks declined to comment. The Federal Reserve also declined to comment.
Recovery plans differ from living wills, also known as "resolution plans," which are required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Living wills aim to end bailouts of too-big-to-fail banks by showing how they would liquidate themselves without imperiling the financial system.