Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and American International Group (AIG) have at least one thing in common: They owned depositories but were not overseen by the Federal Reserve Board.

Each own a thrift but opted not to use the holding company structure laid out in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. That left oversight to either the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), neither of which has as much power as the Fed's authority over financial holding companies.

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