Finer Points Blog

    Small Enough to Jail, Strong Enough to Resist

    May 17, 2017
    Sung_familyA documentary premiering this week in New York features a community bank that not only stood up for what’s right against overwhelming opposition—but also had the courage to share its story.

    “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” tells the saga of the Sung family, who run Abacus Federal Savings Bank in New York City’s Chinatown. The film follows the community bank’s defense against criminal indictment for mortgage fraud brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. After a five-year legal battle that cost them millions of dollars, the Sung family was finally and fully vindicated.

    The Sungs are a stand-up family that bleeds community banking. They have dedicated their careers to meeting the needs of underserved populations in their communities. President and CEO Jill Sung has taken up this banner as chairman of ICBA’s Minority Bank Council and as a member of our Policy Development Committee and Mutual Bank Council.

    Yet the Sungs’ story shows the very cynical side of what the community banking industry faces from regulatory agencies and law enforcement. In Wall Street’s own backyard, Abacus was the only U.S. bank indicted for mortgage fraud related to the 2008 financial crisis. When prosecutors faced the prospect of targeting the large and risky financial firms that precipitated the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression—they instead chose to pick on a community bank they thought they could push around.

    Boy, did they choose the wrong family to mess with! In a modern retelling of David slaying Goliath, the Sungs were exonerated after waging a scrappy and honorable challenge to the powerful Manhattan DA. Not only that, but the Sungs have displayed immense courage in telling their story to the world. It is a tale we can all learn from, and I strongly commend the Sungs for sharing it. As the film is rolled out across the country in the coming weeks and months, culminating in a television premiere this September on PBS’s “Frontline,” community bankers and the American public will have many opportunities to witness this story for themselves.

    Jill Sung herself attended the recent ICBA Capital Summit in Washington. After a screening of the documentary’s trailer, she was asked to stand and be recognized. After rising from her table, she was immediately joined by the entire ballroom of community banker colleagues, who rose to their feet in a standing ovation. As we community bankers face massive challenges—excess regulation, overzealous enforcement, relentless consolidation—we must continue standing together in solidarity to ensure we can continue meeting the needs of our customers, communities and underserved populations.

    Taking Pride in Successful Capital Summit

    May 12, 2017

    TrumpHatImage_17.05.12_2

    Community bankers have many reasons to stand proud after last week’s seminal ICBA Capital Summit in Washington. More than 1,000 community bankers from across the country received the royal treatment in the White House and on Capitol Hill while advocating vitally important policy reforms in meetings with key policymakers.

    Among the many high-profile activities:

    • More than 100 community bankers attended a White House meeting with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon.
    • House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) addressed the full crowd moments before his panel took up and later passed his comprehensive Financial CHOICE Act reform bill.
    • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin joined me on stage for a policy discussion in which he reiterated the administration’s support for community bank regulatory and tax relief.
    • Community bankers engaged in advocacy meetings with more than 300 members of Congress.
    • At one of the meetings, the Kansas delegation joined Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) for the formal signing and introduction of his CLEAR Relief Act regulatory relief bill.

    Washington really did lay out the red carpet for the community banking industry. It truly was an amazing week. And for me, personally, it was a very significant week, in which I announced my plans to retire next year. Effective May 5, 2018—my 15th anniversary—I will retire as your ICBA president and CEO.

    At the summit, ICBA announced that former ICBA Chairman Rebeca Romero Rainey will be my successor. Rebeca is chairman and CEO of Centinel Bank of Taos, N.M. She is a career community banker with many years of distinguished service to ICBA and the nation’s community bankers. She will join ICBA as president-elect in January 2018 and become president and CEO upon my retirement. By selecting Rebeca, ICBA’s leadership has ensured that our association will be in very capable hands—not only now, but for a generation to come.

    Until then, I look forward to continuing to lead this great association over the next year. After a historic week in Washington, I have never been more encouraged and optimistic about the future of our beloved industry. I plan to thank many of you in person over the coming year for the great privilege of serving you as ICBA president. And I pledge that before I depart, we will deliver meaningful regulatory relief to community banks nationwide.

    White House Shows Commitment to Community Banks

    Mar 22, 2017
    WhiteHousePhoto_17.03.09_450pxAs much as I enjoyed being with my fellow community bankers in San Antonio last week at ICBA’s national convention, it was nice to get back to Washington to advance the cause of community banking. The return trip was especially pleasant due to the new and refreshing attitude toward community bank regulation that now exists in the nation’s capital.

    While Congress develops ICBA-advocated legislative fixes, President Donald Trump has also taken action on our industry’s excessive regulatory burden. The president has already signed executive orders directing federal agencies to establish task forces to identify and eliminate unnecessary red tape, requiring agencies to identify two federal regulations to eliminate for every new rule they issue, and ordering a Treasury Department review of regulations implemented following the 2008 financial crisis.

    Together, these efforts show a clear commitment to meaningful relief of the burdens plaguing community banks. This commitment—and a remarkable understanding of what community banks face on a daily basis—was affirmed during President Trump’s recent meeting with community bankers at the White House. At that meeting, ICBA Chairman Rebeca Romero Rainey, ICBA Chairman-Elect R. Scott Heitkamp and ICBA Vice Chairman Timothy K. Zimmerman had the opportunity to share—face to face with the president—real-world examples of how regulatory burdens get between community bankers and consumers, harming economic growth.

    During the meeting, President Trump—along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Chairman Gary Cohn and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus—showed a sound understanding of the complex regulations we’re facing. He knew exactly the kinds of restrictions that hamper small-business and mortgage lending, and he pledged to continue working on behalf of tiered and proportional regulation.

    “Community banks are the backbone of small business in America,” President Trump said. “We are going to preserve our community banks.”

    I could not be more pleased. ICBA strongly supports the efforts of President Trump and Congress—including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas)—to roll back community bank overregulation. We will continue working closely with policymakers to advance meaningful relief, but we will need maximum participation by community bankers from coast to coast to get it done.

    Please make your voices heard on behalf of regulatory relief by signing ICBA’s Plan for Prosperity petition and encouraging your employees and directors to sign on as well. As I said at convention, we have a great opportunity to advance regulatory relief—but we have to see it all the way through to the end. By right-sizing regulation and allowing community banks to focus more on lending and investing in local communities, we can get America’s economy going again.

    Conventional Wisdom

    Feb 27, 2017
    icbalive2017buttonWhat do community banks have in common with astronauts, fighter pilots and football stars? More than you might think.

    At next month’s ICBA Community Banking LIVE® national convention, community bankers from across the nation will get to see for themselves. Fighter pilot Carey Lohrenz, astronaut twins Mark and Scott Kelly, and former NFL great Drew Bledsoe will address the gathering with presentations on leadership, teamwork and overcoming adversity—concepts that are very familiar to community bankers.

    But it seems to me that what these professions have most in common is an embrace of the uncertain, the unknown. Each of us must take risks in order to excel—it’s part of the job description. Now, I’ve never piloted an F-14 Tomcat, docked at the International Space Station or thrown a come-from-behind touchdown pass into double coverage, but I know what it feels like to put my business on the line to help someone else’s succeed. Community bankers know what it means to take a chance, to have skin in the game. That is what makes the industry so exciting and provides hope for the future of our local communities.

    Of course, just like Carey Lohrenz and the Kelly brothers and Drew Bledsoe, community bankers have a strong support system on their side. It might not be the U.S. Navy or NASA or the New England Patriots, but our nation’s nearly 6,000 community banks are independent collections of strong, dependable and community-oriented professionals. From the frontline to the boardroom, community bankers are committed to growth at the local level, which allows them to stake out new opportunities and innovations that move local communities forward.

    But the community banking team doesn’t end there. In fact, community bankers have ICBA and an entire industry of colleagues on which they can rely. And a large representation will be in attendance at next month’s convention, along with more than 60 education sessions and hundreds of innovative solutions in the Expo.

    So for community bankers looking to draw on the strength, education and experience of ICBA and a couple thousand of your closest friends, I encourage you to join us in San Antonio. In addition to the education, entertainment and networking, you’ll be able to tell everyone back home what you have in common with fighter pilots and Super Bowl quarterbacks—without even having to leave the inner atmosphere. Of course, those who depend on you for a small-business loan, home mortgage or even just old-fashioned financial advice might have already reached their own conclusions.

    Take a Stand for Financial CHOICE

    Jan 12, 2017
    As the new Congress gathregulationers in Washington and prepares to take on crushing government overreach, ICBA is well positioned with our revamped Plan for Prosperity. This comprehensive regulatory relief platform includes an aggressive set of policies that would immediately unload a massive amount of burden that is stifling community bank lending and innovation.

    While ICBA is set to hit the ground running in the new year to educate lawmakers and advance this pro-growth agenda, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is doing the same.

    Chairman Hensarling’s soon-to-be-introduced Financial CHOICE Act—the primary vehicle in this Congress for rolling back excessive financial regulation—likewise takes a comprehensive approach to regulatory relief. As you know, ICBA strongly supported the bill during the last Congress and has provided input into the new version as well.

    The ICBA-advocated bill, which won committee passage during the last Congress, includes many of our Plan for Prosperity provisions, such as reforms to rules on mortgage lending, the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the call report and small-business data collection. It also would repeal the costly Durbin Amendment government price controls on debit card interchange fees—another top ICBA priority.

    Financial regulations are limiting access to credit for consumers, homebuyers, small businesses and farmers, while fueling consolidation that has shrunk the number of banks from more than 18,000 30 years ago to roughly 6,000 today. Quite simply, government rules are harming the people they are supposed to help and are in desperate need of a complete overhaul.  

    As we did in the last Congress, ICBA will strongly support Chairman Hensarling’s forthcoming bill, as should all community bankers who want to roll back decades of excessive regulation capped off by many misguided policies that have taken effect in recent years. I call on all community bankers from coast to coast to join us in supporting this important legislation and urging Congress to pass it as soon as possible.

    A New Source of Legal Trolling

    Dec 14, 2016
    Gavel_Money_263pxIf community bankers didn’t get their fill of legal mischief from the patent trolls, there’s a whole new game in town keeping lawyers busy. Predatory plaintiff’s attorneys have found a new source of legal exploitation to hound community banks and other small businesses with legal threats: the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unlike the patent troll problem that ICBA fought all the way through Congress, however, this new crop of law firms is relying not on flimsy patent claims, but on detailed arguments that are already making headway in the courts.

    In recent months ICBA has heard from a growing chorus of community bankers who have received aggressive demand letters alleging that their websites are not in compliance with the ADA’s online accessibility standards. The letters threaten legal action against community banks that do not modify their websites to meet the law firms’ interpretations of the ADA.

    Of course, accessibility is not the goal here. Community banks are second to none in their support of the ADA, and they work hard to ensure that individuals with disabilities can access their services. No, these bullying letters are about one thing—money.

    How do I know? Well, for one thing, these demand letters errantly claim that the Justice Department is using existing international guidelines as a baseline requirement for website accessibility. However, the DOJ hasn’t confirmed that these guidelines are in use. In fact, the department isn’t planning to finalize its own set of standards until 2018!

    This whole demand letter charade is merely an attempt to intimidate letter recipients—primarily small businesses that can be pushed around—into reaching a settlement that is profitable for these law firms. It is a simple money grab that exploits a moment of legal ambiguity to profit off community banks and other local businesses.

    Well, ICBA isn’t standing for it! We’ve already called on the DOJ to intervene in these coercive letters by releasing interim guidelines, and we’ll take this issue to the new Congress when it convenes next month. Meanwhile, we’ve released our own guidance to help community bankers deal with them. First and foremost, community bankers cannot ignore these letters—you should work with your own lawyers and vendors to develop a plan. While these demand letters might rest on a questionable legal basis, they represent real and tangible threats that must be dealt with seriously.

    I know firsthand that community bankers are committed to ADA compliance and accessibility, but community bankers who receive these letters should contact legal counsel, work your network, keep us informed and review your website to provide adequate accessibility. While the DOJ gets its act together on these accessibility standards, we must work together to fight this scourge of intimidation from firms using trolling tactics not to improve accessibility for the disabled, but merely to line their own pockets.

     LEARN MORE:
     Help protect yourself with the following Community Banker University resources:

    Evaluating the Psychology of Money

    Dec 06, 2016
    money_minds_170pxRarely do I pause to share recommended reading, but a new feature in this month’s Independent Banker magazine is worth it. The “Psychology of Money” feature in the December issue is some of the finest journalism on banking and finance that I’ve come across in some time—and I’m proud to say it came from ICBA.

    The feature story from writer Kelly Pike probes how irrational emotions and biases drive our relationship with money, and how community banks can use that information to serve their customers and better their business. The story also examines various banking offerings and how customers react depending on what’s happening inside their mind.

    For instance, relationship bankers can be a lifeline of support to customers who are dealing with financial stress, family problems and even fraudulent schemes that feed on their emotions. Meanwhile, incentive offers can fall flat when customers believe they’re too good to be true.

    “Money can make people do strange things,” one Kentucky community banker says in the piece. That is certainly an understatement.

    The newest issue of Independent Banker is online and in the mail, so I encourage you to take a look when you have a spare moment. It’s always good to see community banking through different lenses to gain a new perspective. One thing is for sure: you’re not going to find this kind of content anywhere else.

    A Matter of Responsibility

    Oct 03, 2016
    20130920-another-day-another-fine A hallmark of community banking is accountability. Community bankers are held accountable to their customers because they live and work in the same neighborhoods. As locally based institutions with a stake in the prosperity of their communities, community bankers simply can’t afford to take advantage of their customers.

    So Wells Fargo’s failure to take responsibility for fraudulently opening 2 million unwanted consumer bank accounts has been particularly disturbing for the community banking industry.

    The megabank’s leadership has repeatedly blamed the widespread fraud on the 5,300 employees it fired as its $185 million settlement was announced—a fine that is nothing more than a rounding error for the $2 trillion-asset institution. Chairman and CEO John Stumpf refuses to concede that the scandal stemmed from failed leadership and a poisoned corporate culture. And even fellow banking industry representatives have responded by merely condemning dishonest or unethical behavior at “any bank, anywhere, any time.”

    Any bank? Suddenly this massive breach of trust isn’t about Wells Fargo, but the banking industry in its entirety? Absolutely Not! No! This isn’t about “any” bank or all banks. This isn’t about universal condemnations of wrongdoing. And this certainly isn’t about community banks, who remain, as always, accountable for their actions.

    What this whole sordid mess is about, however, is the massive negative consequences not just on American consumers, but the local banks that had nothing to do with it. Community bankers have seen time and time again how the consequences of megabank misdeeds rain down hardest not on the perpetrators, but on us!

    Again and again, Washington responds to the largest banks’ bad behavior by rolling out new regulations that fall disproportionately hard on the smallest banks. While we fight and scrap and claw for exemptions and carve-outs, the truth is that community banks always get roped in to new regulatory burdens that take our attention away from our customers and toward red tape. Meanwhile, the large banks that incited the response have the resources to hire teams of lawyers to manage their compliance.

    No, no, no—not again. We WILL NOT get dragged into this mess! Community banks are NOT Wells Fargo!

    ICBA is doing its utmost to ensure Washington and the American public make a clear distinction between community banks and systemically risky institutions. We take responsibility for exclusively representing community banks, not the megabanks that make our members’ lives more difficult. Therefore, we will be with you—the community banker—every step of the way, ensuring that your name is not tarnished by this scandal. Because #WeAreNotWells!

    As we’ve told Congress again and again, we need a system of tiered and proportional regulation based on size and risk, which will ensure appropriate standards on the largest banks while allowing local banks to continue serving their communities. In doing so, we can fix what’s wrong with our banking system by strengthening what’s right with it—community banks.

    Standing Up to a Reckless Regulator

    Sep 20, 2016
    regulationEvery 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

    Aug 04, 2016

    leadfwd“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

    Jun 22, 2016
    accounting 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.



    Key Concessions

    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.

    Real-World Impact

    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

    Apr 15, 2016
    “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 bankerscheckoutinfographic 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

    Mar 30, 2016
    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.
    16-03-30_frb_small_biz_study
    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

    Mar 28, 2016
    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

    Mar 14, 2016
    cblphoto2 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 banking model.

    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

    Jan 06, 2016
    800px-us_capitol_dome 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

    Dec 18, 2015
    historybookhistory 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

    Dec 07, 2015
    800px-us_capitol_domeIt 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

    Nov 30, 2015
    accounting 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.

    Digging Deep and Making a Difference This Holiday Season

    Nov 23, 2015
    While many Americans are gearing up for the holiday season, ICBA and community bankers are gearing up for a bustling couple of weeks in Washington. Three top-priority industry initiatives are coming to a head in roughly as many weeks: blocking a backdoor tax hike on Federal Reserve members, modifying a dangerous rewrite of accounting standards, and advancing community bank regulatory relief. We need community bankers nationwide to make their voices heard loud and clear above the din on Capitol Hill.

    First off, ICBA is working to ensure that community banks aren’t forced to pay for a federal highway bill that House and Senate lawmakers are in the middle of finalizing. An ICBA-advocated amendment that passed in the House would remove a Senate-passed cut to dividends paid on Federal Reserve Bank stock. The amendment not only drops the $17 billion backdoor charge on community banks, but also removes a provision to extend higher guarantee fees on mortgages sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We also want to ensure a separate House-passed amendment that advances several ICBA regulatory relief provisions is included in the final version of the bill.

    Meanwhile, ICBA is calling on community bankers to continue leading the charge against a costly accounting revamp that is expected to be finalized by the Financial Accounting Standards Board as soon as next week. The Current Expected Credit Loss model would require banks of all sizes to set aside reserves the day they make a loan or investment, resulting in an increase in loan-loss reserves of up to 50 percent, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. We’re calling on community bankers nationwide to contact FASB and advocate ICBA’s alternative plan, which would base community bank loan-loss provisions on historical losses. Meanwhile, I encourage community bankers to attend ICBA’s complimentary audio conference on the FASB proposal on Monday, Nov. 30.

    Last but not least, ICBA is making a major push to advance our Plan for Prosperity regulatory relief priorities all the way through Congress before lawmakers break in December. Because the House has already passed numerous ICBA-advocated measures, such as relief from new mortgage rules and Basel III, the Senate is the key to getting them over the finish line. Whether it’s using the appropriations process ahead of the Dec. 11 budget deadline or old-fashioned regular order, now is the time for us to pull out all the stops.

    The rest of the country might be cleaning out their ovens to cook Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s time for ICBA and community bankers to strike while the iron is hot. Community bankers have sent 15,000 letters to Capitol Hill against the Fed dividend cut and for our regulatory relief proposals, and nearly 5,000 signed ICBA’s petition on FASB’s accounting plan—clearly demonstrating our industry’s ability to rally when it matters most. So while we’re making room for turkey and stuffing, let’s all dig deep and redouble our advocacy efforts. With strong collective action, we can ensure a lasting holiday gift to Main Street communities.

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