Every now and then we have the chance to stand up for what’s right against powerful forces. As the legacy of a group of colonists who stared down and defeated the world’s greatest empire, it’s virtually our birthright as Americans. So in some ways ICBA’s federal lawsuit against the National Credit Union Administration
for its unlawful lending rule feels like the extension of a longstanding national tradition.
ICBA’s suit challenges the NCUA’s rule allowing tax-exempt credit unions to exceed commercial lending limits set by Congress. In a nutshell, federal law defines credit union “member business loans” to include any and all commercial loans on a credit union’s balance sheet. But the NCUA’s final rule unlawfully allows nonmember commercial loans and purchased loan participations to be excluded from the statutory limits.
Regulatory Rubber Stamp
If this issue sounds familiar, that’s because credit unions have been trying to push it through Congress for more than a decade. But lawmakers have repeatedly declined to expand credit union lending loopholes. What is a tax-exempt industry to do?
Well, if you’re the credit union industry, you simply wait for your captive federal regulator to rewrite the law for you. And that is precisely what the NCUA has done—unilaterally sidestep the legislative branch. You know, the branch of government those scrappy American provincials later enshrined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.
The only problem for the credit unions is that ICBA was watching. Indeed, we’ve seen more than enough. After years of evolving from a regulatory agency to a cheerleader for its tax-exempt industry, the NCUA has finally gone too far. In attempting to serve as the regulatory rubber stamp for a handful of growth-oriented credit unions seeking to expand at all costs, the NCUA has overstepped its legal bounds.
Bad Faith, Bad Policy
Quite simply, the NCUA’s business-lending rule contradicts federal law, which expressly limits the amount of member business loans that may be held on credit union balance sheets. The NCUA has absolutely no authority to concoct its own exceptions to the “member business loan” definition. Indeed, the agency itself has acknowledged that it “does not have authority to amend the MBL definition through regulation.”
Not only is the NCUA rule unlawful, it’s also bad policy. The agency’s plan places undue risk on U.S. taxpayers, expands government-sponsored advantages for credit unions, and jeopardizes the safety and soundness of these institutions. Our tax dollars should not be used to promote reckless lending practices at these tax-exempt companies.
So here we are—taking a stand. ICBA’s volunteer board of community bankers has elected to confront a heedless federal agency and hold it accountable. We might not be Washington, Jefferson and Adams, but the NCUA isn’t exactly the British Empire, either.
So I encourage community bankers, our allies, and consumers everywhere to go to ICBA’s “Stop the CU Grab” website
to learn more about the lawsuit and how to help through the ICBA Credit Union Litigation Fund. After all, we’re taking action not only because the law is on our side, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Taking the Reins of Leadership
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
General Colin Powell
Good leaders aren’t born, they’re forged. They are inspired, shaped and mentored. They are indebted to the individuals who have coached them through both obstacles and successes, and they are obliged to pay that debt forward to the next generation.
During my more than 30 years in community banking, I’ve learned valuable lessons about preparation, perseverance and commitment from many leaders of this beloved industry. I have worked to repay that debt by fighting for the future of community banking through ICBA. And I highly encourage community bank executives across our nation to support the next generation by sending their future leaders to this year’s LEAD FWD Summit
This collaborative forum, set for Sept. 11-14 in Denver
, offers numerous opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders to interact with industry veterans and gain insights on how to achieve long-term success. The interactive sessions and speakers were selected to inspire promising leaders to realize their potential and return to your bank with renewed drive and actionable strategies to meet the needs of customers for years to come.
I’ll be there at the LEAD FWD Summit
to offer my account of what it takes to thrive in today’s competitive market. And I hope community banks from coast to coast will be represented as well.
At this year’s convention, ICBA Chairman Rebeca Romero Rainey spoke of the wisdom, strength and determination she gained from community bankers who came before her—those who thought big and weren’t afraid to take risks. Rebeca challenged all of us to think about our role as a mentor and what we can do to empower the next generation of community bank leaders.
So I ask community bankers: what will you do to support tomorrow’s leaders and carry our industry forward? Providing the opportunity for them to learn from successful innovators and trailblazers is a great place to start.
Community Bankers Achieve Vital Changes to Accounting Rules
It took years of hard work, but community bankers once again showed they can make a positive impact on new regulations through engaged grassroots advocacy. The latest industry success came with the release of the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s final updated standard on credit losses
This Current Expected Credit Loss standard is by no means perfect, requiring all banks to account for credit losses at the point of origination. But community bankers and ICBA have singlehandedly achieved numerous and important revisions to the standard that will make it more workable for Main Street institutions and avoid potentially disastrous consequences for our industry.
Compared with what was originally proposed, FASB has completely departed from a standard that would have required complex modeling systems for institutions large and small. Instead, it now explicitly allows community banks to continue using their personal understanding of local markets to determine loan-loss reserves. That means community banks will be able to continue using qualitative factors, historical losses and spreadsheets to calculate their loan-loss reserves when the standard is implemented in 2020-21.
Federal regulators showed they are on board with this approach, announcing in formal guidance
that community banks will be able to meet the new standards without complex models or third-party service providers. This is complete reversal from a year ago, when a regulator-led webinar suggested banks should consider investing in third-party modeling systems.
Years of Outreach
Why the change of heart? It’s due entirely to the tenacity of community bankers, our affiliated state associations, and ICBA, the only national trade association that stood up exclusively for our industry. ICBA led grassroots outreach on the standard since it was introduced nearly six years ago—including a 2011 petition signed by roughly 5,000 bankers. Meanwhile, ICBA community bankers have worked directly with FASB to explain the unique community bank business model, resulting in these important changes.
ICBA community bankers Greg Ohlendorf, Lucas White and Tim Zimmerman deserve special congratulations and thanks for their efforts. All three volunteered hundreds of hours of their precious time to work with FASB and communicate community banker concerns. Most recently, Zimmerman, ICBA’s vice chairman, has served as the sole community bank representative on FASB’s Transition Resource Group. The TRG will continue to play a key role in assuring the standard is implemented as intended, with the much-needed industry-advocated improvements.
The impact of these changes cannot be overstated. As originally proposed, FASB’s impairment proposal would have crippled community banks and their ability to serve local communities across the nation. Now, community banks will be able to continue accounting for loan losses in a more scalable manner, using their own systems and first-hand knowledge of their local customers and communities.
Indeed, the evolution of the CECL standard warrants congratulations all around. These changes simply could not have been achieved without the input of an entire industry of community bankers. Hats off to my community bank colleagues from coast to coast for fighting this important battle and accomplishing so much.
A Voice That Must Be Heard
“You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.”
Frank Luntz, political strategist
Community bankers aren’t the type to hold back an opinion, whether it’s offering advice to a small-business customer or weighing in on how to promote local economic activity. But in this age of short news cycles and even shorter attention spans, community bankers have to be willing to tell their story time and time again to connect with policymakers and the broader public.
The future of the industry depends on our ability to speak out passionately and directly. And with ICBA Community Banking Month and the countdown to the ICBA Washington Policy Summit underway, now is the time for community bankers to make their voice heard loud and clear. That’s why ICBA is offering a variety of resources to help community bankers spread the industry’s message.
The ICBA Community Banking Month website
offers resources that community bankers
can use to espouse the benefits of community banking, including a custom news release and op-ed, sample social media updates, and an infographic. It also offers a custom letter to Congress
that community bank customers can use to advocate on behalf of the industry to their lawmakers.
Meanwhile, community bankers can continue the industry’s push for regulatory relief and other important policy goals at this month’s ICBA Washington Policy Summit
. Scheduled for April 24-27 in the nation’s capital, the summit allows community bankers to meet directly with their members of Congress and regulators to advance smarter banking policies.
As ICBA Chairman Rebeca Romero Rainey said at last month’s ICBA Community Banking LIVE convention, each community bank has a unique story of how they serve their local communities and make an individualized impact on their customers. Our industry’s success depends on our ability to share that story—to the people in our communities, to the news media, to the policymakers who establish the laws we live by, and to the next generation of community bankers.
So let’s tap into that and tell the community banking story—again and again. While you might get tired of repeating the benefits of banking locally and the need for policymakers to allow this system to thrive, we owe it to our communities, our economy and the future of our industry to make sure our voices are truly heard.
Study Affirms Community Banks’ Small-Biz Leadership
It’s something ICBA and the community banking industry say all the time: community banks are the nation’s leading small-business lenders. And the numbers back it up. While community banks make up less than 20 percent of the banking system’s assets, they dole out more than half of its small-business loans.
Still, some small businesses continue to test their alternatives: megabanks, credit unions, and now online lenders. The latest set of numbers shows that these businesses should stick with a community bank.
According to a new study from seven Federal Reserve Banks
, small businesses that apply for loans with community banks are the most successful and most satisfied.
Here’s what the study found:
- Community banks were the most likely to make a loan, extending financing to 76 percent of loan applicants while large banks approved just 58 percent.
- Community banks also had the highest satisfaction scores, with 75 percent reporting that they were satisfied with their overall experience, compared with scores of 56 percent for credit unions and 51 percent for large banks.
- While online lenders had the second-highest rate of approval at 71 percent, just 15 percent of borrowers said they were satisfied with the experience.
- Of the firms that were dissatisfied with their experience with online lenders, 70 percent cited high interest rates and 51 percent reported unfavorable repayment terms.
With the amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into launching a startup or expanding a small business, entrepreneurs should know that they have a partner in their local community bank. That is more important now than ever before, as demonstrated in a 2014 ICBA study
that found that 41 percent of Millennials say they are very interested in starting up their own business.
So community bankers, let’s continue to spread the word about the importance of our industry in getting small businesses off the ground and taking our economy along with them. It’s an important message that everyone needs to hear, and now we have even more data to back it up.
Mortgage Relief Recognizes Community Banks’ Unique Role
It was a long time coming, but persistence paid off when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently updated its mortgage regulations to ease unnecessary restrictions on many community banks. Under an interim final rule, the CFPB expanded Qualified Mortgage eligibility for balloon loans held in portfolio and exempted more rural lenders from escrow mandates.
That might sound a little complicated to the layman. But all it really means is that Washington regulators will allow many community bankers to keep doing what they’ve done for years—making mortgage loans that meet the unique needs of their customers and communities.
And that’s really the heart of the matter here. This isn’t an example of ICBA, our affiliated state associations and community bankers achieving some abstract policy goal. No, this is a case of policymakers acknowledging the benefit of a service that community bankers have offered for generations.
The case for reform has been overwhelming. According to the ICBA Community Bank Lending Survey
released last year, three-quarters of respondents said regulatory burdens are keeping them from making more residential mortgage loans. Half of all rural banks said they did not qualify for the QM rule’s “rural” exception. That report followed the release of ICBA’s 2013 Community Bank Qualified Mortgage Survey
, which found that less than half of those offering balloon loans would qualify for the QM rule’s balloon mortgage exception.
Ultimately, it was this hard evidence combined with dogged initiative that saw crucial reforms all the way through—from winning portfolio QM treatment for small creditors in the original rule, to achieving the CFPB’s expanded definition of “rural area,” to the additional relief that advanced last December in the FAST Act. In fact, we still want to take this even further and implement QM safe harbor treatment and escrow relief for all
community bank loans originated and held in portfolio.
I’m thrilled that our persistence has paid off—that the concerns of ICBA have been heard and that thousands of community banks and the customers they serve will regain access to mortgage credit. And I’m thankful for all the hard work that community bankers and the state associations have put into their advocacy. But more than anything, I’m hopeful that this development reminds policymakers that community banks are and always have been in the business of serving local communities—something that Washington should be looking to promote, not regulate out of business.
The Story I Heard in New Orleans
It’s a funny thing. The buildup to the ICBA Community Banking LIVE® national convention is a massive undertaking, one that uses up every ounce of energy from ICBA bankers and staff. But rather than coming home exhausted, once again I’ve come home feeling more energized than before.
How does that happen? Am I delirious with exhaustion after a year of painstaking groundwork? Was I hypnotized by the menagerie of workshops, events and Expo demonstrations? I mostly steered clear of the raw oysters and hurricanes, so it’s not something I ate.
No, I’m energized by what I saw and heard from thousands of community bankers at the convention. It was the more than 3,000 members of our industry taking pride in our accomplishments, our public service, and our local, personal, community
It was ICBA Immediate Past Chairman Jack Hartings calling on every one of us to stand up, speak up and step up. It was new ICBA Chairman Rebeca Romero Rainey reminding community bankers that what we do matters. Reminding us to tell our story
—to our customers, to our communities, and to the policymakers who set the rules we live by.
Witnessing that story being told is what energizes me. While every community banker tells it a little bit differently, the message of integrity, accountability and local involvement is always there. And the beauty of the community banking story is that it’s 100 percent genuine—no spin, no tricks, no double-dealing.
So don’t be shy—tell our story loud and clear. Whether it’s celebrating Community Banking Month in April, coming to the nation’s capital for the ICBA Washington Policy Summit, or simply spreading the word about what community banking means in your hometown—speak up for all to hear!
By sharing our story, we can support stronger communities, promote a more resilient economy, and protect our nation from the ills of excessive financial concentration. And after years of hard work and commitment, we can replenish in ourselves the energy and the true grit it takes to bring that story to life every day.
Thank you, community bankers, for doing what you do and for putting on another powerful and fulfilling convention.
Responsiveness Is Key to Another Productive Year
Welcome to 2016, community bankers! We had a prolific year of advocacy in 2015, and I want to thank all of you for doing your part. ICBA is again primed and ready to hit the ground running in Washington on a number of fronts. But we can’t forget that diligence alone will not ensure another successful year. We must also be flexible and quick to respond to the constantly churning and evolving political realities of the nation’s capital.
That means not only actively working to advance long-standing ICBA initiatives, such as building on the common-sense regulatory relief we achieved last year, but also defending against new and dangerous threats to relationship banking and Main Street economies as they arise.
Take last year, for example. Sure enough, ICBA and community bankers achieved numerous significant victories by actively supporting pro-community bank policies. That means the Plan for Prosperity provisions eliminating redundant privacy notice requirements, extending the 18-month exam cycle, and allowing more banks to qualify as “rural” mortgage lenders under CFPB rules. It means mandated community bank representation on the Fed, call report reform, the cybersecurity information-sharing law, stricter capital standards on the riskiest megabanks, and tax relief for Subchapter S corporations. None of this could have been achieved without active community bank advocacy on behalf of established industry goals.
However, just as important is a forceful defense against the misguided policies that continue to crop up in Washington and elsewhere. Some of these we can anticipate year after year, including the persistent and oft-frustrated attempts by credit unions and the Farm Credit System to expand into commercial banking without facing the same regulatory and tax obligations. And some we’ve worked for years to moderate, including Basel III capital guidelines and the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s costly and burdensome standards update. But some bad ideas seem to come out of nowhere, such as last year’s Senate-passed plan to cut dividends on Federal Reserve Bank stock. Following vociferous ICBA opposition, Congress exempted community banks under $10 billion in assets, saving them an estimated $200 million per year. And lawmakers softened the blow on banks over $10 billion by providing a variable rate on Fed stock tied to the 10-year Treasury.
Sometimes the policies that didn’t pass are as important as those that are signed into law. Let’s not forget that our job as community bank advocates—whether by supporting pro-community bank measures or neutralizing hostile policies—is to promote an environment where community banks flourish. That is our mission. And after a busy and productive year, I am confident we can continue advancing that mission in 2016 and beyond.
FASB Fabrications Show Genuine Disconnect with Reality
Some might be surprised to learn that I’ve encountered circumstances so unbelievable I’ve been left speechless (hard to believe, I know), but last Thursday was one of those times. After years of meeting with the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to raise concerns about the harmful impact of its proposed accounting reforms on community banks, I was astonished
to find that no one at FASB has listened to a single word we’ve said. In a recent speech, FASB Chairman Russell Golden had the gall
to not only dismiss community bank concerns with the proposal, but also to implicate Main Street banks in the Wall Street financial crisis!
In addition to misrepresenting his organization’s proposal and what it will mean for local lenders (more on that later), Golden said that bank failures following the crisis show that community banks were a “major part of the problem.” I was so struck by this outright fabrication—this slander against the hardworking Americans who pulled our economy out of Wall Street’s toilet—that I was at a complete loss for words, for about a minute
. Then it came time to respond and call these remarks out for what they are: a cynical and ahistorical justification of shoddy policies by an organization that refuses to acknowledge its own mistakes.
As ICBA noted this week in a letter from our entire Executive Committee
, the truth is that the vast majority of community banks fared extremely well during the Wall Street crisis because of their personalized, relationship-based business model—the very model that FASB accounting reforms completely contradict. While too-big-to-fail banks developed irresponsible financial instruments that incentivized disastrous risk-taking and then survived on taxpayer assistance after wrecking the economy, community banks continued their business of meeting face-to-face with their customers and providing badly needed credit. Blaming community banks for the crisis is like blaming Poland for World War II. It shows either a misunderstanding of our financial system, a disdain for local financial institutions, or a selective historical view that one might expect at a lower Manhattan cocktail lounge—not the nation’s financial accounting standards-setter.
Adding insult to injury, Golden also flatly disavows the cost and complexity inherent in FASB’s proposed Current Expected Credit Loss model (CECL). In fact, the CECL plan requires banks of all sizes to record a provision for credit losses the moment they make a loan, mandating expensive credit modeling systems that will crush the localized financial decision-making that is fundamental to community bank lending. Further, Golden downplayed the strict regulatory requirements the new standards will necessitate, showing a clear disconnect with regulators that have already launched webinars on the plan and have predicted a resulting 30 to 50 percent hike in loan-loss reserves.
This financial accounting doublespeak demonstrates a callous disregard for ICBA’s repeated attempts to make FASB’s plan work for community banks—including numerous meetings, our alternative proposal based on historical losses, and the nearly 5,000 community bankers who signed ICBA’s petition advocating the alternative model. If FASB continues to ignore the community banking industry’s calls for reform, the damage to our industry, the American consumer, and local economies will be irreparable. Golden’s temerity might have left me momentarily speechless, but it’s only going to turn up the volume of our opposition to this costly, burdensome and economically catastrophic plan.
Community Bank Persistence Pays Dividends
It wasn’t exactly what ICBA was advocating; nevertheless, nearly all community banks scored a major victory with the industry’s hard-fought exemption from a backdoor tax hike on most members of the Federal Reserve System.
Following passionate industry advocacy to scrap a Senate-passed plan that would have required all Fed-member banks to pay for federal highways via cuts to Fed dividend payments, lawmakers agreed to exempt community banks under $10 billion in assets. Larger banks will receive a floating dividend not to exceed 6 percent (which in itself is far superior to the flat 1.5 percent rate that was contained in the original bill).
While ICBA and community bankers have pushed to completely drop the dividend cut ever since the ill-conceived proposal advanced last July, this community bank exemption will save our industry an estimated $200 million each year. That’s roughly $150,000 in annual savings for a $500 million bank, $300,000 for a $1 billion bank, and so on. With more than 1,800 members of the Federal Reserve at less than $10 billion in assets, the benefits will be felt in communities nationwide.
We were also able to push through some beneficial regulatory relief policies from ICBA’s Plan for Prosperity. The bill eliminates redundant privacy notice requirements, expands the 18-month exam cycle, eases restrictions on rural mortgage lenders, enhances TruPS CDO relief for small bank holding companies, and allows thrift holding companies to take advantage of new SEC registration thresholds. Further, the final law restores funds cut from the federal crop insurance program and drops an ICBA-opposed plan to raise Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantee fees.
Together, these successes show what ICBA and the community banking industry can accomplish by working together on all fronts. No, we didn’t get everything we wanted—a complete withdrawal of this bad public policy—but by being the first to identify this issue and then bird-dogging it and never giving up on it, we made a meaningful difference for our industry. Thank you, community bankers, for all of your hard work. And congratulations on this outstanding success, which will provide lasting benefit to your customers and communities across the nation.
Loan-Loss Plan Is Direct Hit on Community Bank Lending
The following op-ed originally appeared Nov. 9 on American Banker’s BankThink blog.
It is no wonder that the banking industry strongly opposes the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s proposed reforms to loan-loan loss reserve calculations. The proposal would force community banks, in particular, to completely overhaul their approach to lending. Even some FASB members and more than half of the board's own Investor Advisory Committee oppose it as well
The proposal would revamp how banks recognize credit losses on all types of loans. Because community banks follow generally accepted accounting principles — known as GAAP — they normally record a provision for credit losses when they actually have evidence they'll incur a default. But under the FASB plan, known as the Current Expected Credit Loss model, banks of all sizes would instead take a hit the moment they make a loan. Banks would be required to estimate expected credit losses for the life of a financial instrument and recognize the net present value of those losses at the moment of origination.
This is flawed accounting and antithetical to the community banking model itself. Requiring local institutions to institute and maintain complex and expensive credit modeling systems removes their discretion to make localized financial decisions. Pushing up loan losses in the credit-loss cycle to the point of origination also effectively penalizes community banks for investing in loans, which are made predominantly to individuals and small businesses in their local communities.
This will restrict the flow of credit from banks of all kinds. Tying up more capital in loan-loss allowances will mean lower regulatory capital, fewer loans to consumers and even tighter economic growth. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency estimates that the proposal will increase loan-loss reserves by an average of 30 to 50 percent, which translates into a decline in bank capital to support local lending.
So, the FASB proposal has problems. What can we do about it? Can we address concerns over recognizing credit losses without damaging the community bank business model? Fortunately, community banks are still in the business of finding solutions. To borrow from John Adams, we want to have a better hand at building up than pulling down, which is why we've come up with an alternative proposal.
The ICBA's alternative plan for institutions with less than $10 billion would base loan-loss provisions on historical losses for similar assets. Expected losses on financial assets that have not incurred losses would be based on the entity's own historical loss experience for identical or similar assets. If the institution does not have historical data, it could base expected losses on the experience of a representative peer group. If a loan or security became impaired and a loss was probable, institutions would be allowed to increase the reserve based on a specific measurement of impairment.
This plan would build necessary allowances for potential losses and match each loan's credit risk with its earning potential. It also would recognize reserves sooner in the credit cycle, which meets FASB's objective of reforming the shortfalls exposed during the recent credit crisis. Most important, the alternative removes the principle of recognizing losses on day one, reflecting the fact that losses generally occur later in the life of the loan. This would limit the negative impact on community bank lending.
Nearly 5,000 community bankers have signed a petition advocating this simpler approach to financial accounting. The FASB should heed the concerns of community bankers, the rest of the banking industry, and its own board and committee members. Fortunately, we can address concerns with our system of loan-loss provisioning without disrupting community bank lenders and those who depend on them for access to capital.