Finer Points Blog

    ICBA Brief Offers Latest on Tax Reform Debate

    Nov 15, 2017
    800px-us_capitol_domeWhile this week’s bipartisan regulatory relief agreement in the Senate has breathed new life into ICBA’s Plan for Prosperity push, ICBA remains fully engaged in the debate over comprehensive tax reform. To give community bankers the lay of the land on this fast-paced and fluctuating development, we’ve released a new informational brief with the latest tax reform details.

    This legislative update from ICBA’s congressional relations experts provides the state of play on tax reform, with House and Senate bills rapidly advancing in their respective congressional chambers. It also spotlights provisions with the greatest potential impact on community banks.

    For instance, while ICBA strongly supports the 20 percent corporate rate laid out in both bills, we have significant concerns with their unfavorable treatment of Subchapter S community banks and other pass-through entities. Meanwhile, we continue working to protect deductions for business interest and FDIC premiums, fully repeal the estate tax, safeguard non-qualified deferred compensation plans, and repeal or modify tax subsidies for credit unions and Farm Credit System entities.

    I strongly encourage community bankers to read this quick brief on tax reform and stay engaged in the debate. With Congress moving rapidly, ICBA continues urging Subchapter S banks to weigh in with ICBA’s Be Heard grassroots action center to protect the Subchapter S model.

    As Congress nears the final weeks of its 2017 session, there are many moving parts with substantial ramifications for community banks. By continuing to work together as a united community banking industry, we can achieve significant results on all of our advocacy priorities.

    Read ICBA’s Tax Reform Info Brief

    Wells Fargo: Still Not a Community Bank

    Oct 05, 2017
    TBTFApparently Wells Fargo isn’t content to tarnish its own reputation—it has the gall to try to hide behind the sterling reputation of the nation’s community banks. Testifying recently about the megabank’s phony-accounts scandal, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan cited improvements to the institution’s “Community Bank.”

    Pardon me? In case you forgot, that’s what the $2 trillion-asset bank calls its massive retail banking arm, which perpetrated the fraud of roughly 3.5 million customers. But it’s not fooling anyone. The Senate Banking Committee members grilling Sloan know darn well what community banks are and that they don’t set up unwanted bank accounts for unwitting customers.

    This isn’t the only time Wells Fargo has tried to impersonate community banks. Let’s not forget its national advertising campaign claiming to be the world’s “largest community bank.” Oh please.

    Wells Fargo has spent the year since the accounts scandal broke facing allegations that it violated service member protections, overcharged for home appraisals, discriminated against its own employees, falsified mortgage records and forced unneeded auto insurance on some 800,000 customers. Cowering behind the good name of actual, bona fide community banks isn’t going to cut it.

    Lest there be any confusion, I invite all Americans to see for themselves what a real community bank looks like. ICBA’s Community Bank Locator makes it easy for everyone to find a community bank in their neighborhood and experience local banking firsthand.

    Community banks are locally based financial institutions whose relationship-based business model incentivizes them to put their customers first. Community banks reinvest in their communities, they are outsized small-business lenders—and they don’t try to convince you they’re something they’re not.

    Visit www.banklocally.org to find a community bank and see the difference for yourself.

    Short-Term Investments That Yield Enduring Gains

    Sep 18, 2017
    170208_EVT_website 125x125pxAs a former community banker, I understand the importance of succession planning as a vital part of an organization’s overall strategy for the future. When done properly, succession planning ensures a seamless transition that allows promising employees with drive and passion to expand beyond their job functions and confidently assume key leadership positions at the bank.

    Succession planning represents an investment in the future and a roadmap to help community banks continue their mission and achieve their vision.

    Identifying talent within your rank and file is only the beginning. Community banking’s future leaders must be equipped with the means to fulfill their promise and ensure the long-term viability of the bank, its customers and the community as a whole.  

    Continuing education—whether online or in person—is a critical component to developing high performers. Training and education provides participants with pertinent information to help them think innovatively and align with industry developments while providing a forum to converse with industry experts and develop best practices that can be implemented bank-wide.  

    Many ICBA member banks rely on courses and webinars through Community Banker University® to train and educate staff. ICBA’s upcoming LEAD FWD Summit, held Nov. 6-7 in St. Louis, Mo., can also provide your bank’s high performers with novel insights and tools to propel your community bank into the future.   

    This year’s LEAD FWD Summit is packed with educational sessions, workshops and networking activities geared toward accelerating professional development. Attendees will have opportunities to interact with experts in banking operations, compliance exams and payment systems. They will also participate in whiteboarding with peers and authorities on topics such as financial branding, bank profitability, risk management and customer experience. The event’s keynote speakers are two former professional athletes who offer real-world examples of effective teambuilding to achieve organizational goals, which is vital to a community bank’s ongoing growth and sustainability.

    Succession planning is a life-long, multi-faceted process. If you are not already doing so, I urge you to take full advantage of ICBA’s continuing education offerings to cultivate and complement your existing on-the-job training and magnify the talent of your bank’s rising stars.

    In the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."

    Tomorrow’s leaders have the great privilege and awesome responsibility of protecting the community banking franchise for future generations. Let’s make sure they’re prepared to seize the moment.

    Cam Fine is president and CEO of ICBA. Follow him on Twitter, @Cam_Fine.

    At Our Best in the Worst of Times

    Sep 13, 2017
    ICBA Community Bank Service Awards 2017I have no shortage of opportunities to take pride in serving the nation’s community bankers. They always put their local communities first and selflessly devote themselves to the greater good.

    Yet, I never cease to be amazed by how community bankers dig the deepest when they are subject to the very worst conditions, as evidenced by the industry’s recent response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Community bankers in Texas and Florida are showing what it means to be locally invested by helping their friends and neighbors find hope, their local businesses bounce back, and their communities recover and rebuild—all while sustaining their own community banks submerged by the storms.

    With community banks spread across our vast nation, that selflessness, personal sacrifice and leadership is something I have witnessed before amid the wreckage of tornadoes, floods, wildfires and more. But it is not something I take for granted. As the economic lifeline to thousands of communities across the nation, community bankers are truly our nation’s financial first responders. Watching it is heartening and humbling, every time.

    That personal commitment to those in harm’s way extends, of course, to community bankers outside the flood zone. ICBA teamed with MainStreet Bank in Fairfax, Va., to establish the Hurricane Harvey Community Bank Relief Fund. The fund, which uses the Aircharity portal to send contributions directly to community bankers affected by Hurricane Harvey, has raised more than $100,000 in just two weeks.

    While the relief fund is accepting donations through Monday, Sept. 25, community bankers can also continue using ICBA’s Crisis Response and Preparedness Center to direct donations to the American Red Cross in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Meanwhile, ICBA’s site continues to provide information and resources on Harvey, Irma and natural disasters in general, including tools from banking regulators, FEMA, FS-ISAC and others.

    What community bankers are doing for hurricane victims and devastated communities in Texas and Florida is awe-inspiring. It is something I will never forget. Thank you, community bankers, for your contributions. Thank you for helping storm-battered and flood-ravaged communities get back on their feet, today and in the years ahead. But perhaps just as important, thank you for displaying once again the selflessness, the will, the sacrifice and the community of which we—as individuals, as an industry and as a nation—are capable.

    In ILC Fight, Community Banks Will Not Stand Down

    Aug 17, 2017

    Since I arrived at the Independent Community Bankers of America in 2003, the conversation about the mixing of banking and commerce has heated up, come to a head, disappeared and then resurfaced. It is a persistent issue that keeps those in the banking and business community debating, repeatedly. First it was Walmart’s quest for banking powers through the industrial loan company charter. Now it’s fintech.

    The issue is back in the forefront with Social Finance’s application for deposit insurance to charter SoFi Bank, as well as acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika’s suggestion that the government should re-examine the historic separation of banking and commerce in federal law and regulation.

    Commentators who say we should do away with that historic separation should be aware that the community banking industry will once again fight tooth and nail against such a move. We fiercely and successfully opposed Walmart’s 2006 bid. More than a decade later, the core principle remains the same.

    Allowing nonbank corporate conglomerates to own banks not only violates the U.S. policy of maintaining the separation of banking and commerce. It also jeopardizes the impartial allocation of credit, creates egregious conflicts of interest, and results in a dangerous concentration of commercial and economic power. It also extends the federal safety net to commercial interests, which is counter to the principles upon which the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was created.

    The Independent Community Bankers of America’s main objection to the SoFi application for federal deposit insurance is that the ILC charter would allow the fintech company to avoid the legal prohibitions and restrictions under the Bank Holding Company Act (BHCA).

    The BHCA contains a comprehensive framework for the supervision of bank holding companies and their nonbank subsidiaries. Regulation under the BHCA entails consolidated supervision of the holding company by the Federal Reserve and restricts the activities of the holding company and its affiliates to those that are closely related to banking, such as extending credit and servicing loans, or performing appraisals of real estate and personal property.

    Because of a loophole in the law, companies that own ILCs are not subject to BHCA supervision. As a result, a company that owns an FDIC-insured ILC can engage in non-banking commercial activities and not be subject to consolidated supervision.

    Over the years, both Federal Reserve and Treasury Department officials have expressed concerns about the lack of BHC consolidated supervision for ILCs and their parents. Under the previous administration, a 2012 Government Accountability Office report about institutions exempt from the BHCA, like ILCs, said Fed and Treasury officials “contend that the exemptions represent gaps in the current regulatory structure that pose risks to the financial system.” According to the report, those officials said “the lack of consolidated supervision of institutions that are federally insured” was “a supervisory ‘blind spot.’”

    The report also cited comments from Fed officials that if Congress did not close the ILC loophole, “the number and size of ILCs could grow to much higher levels then they had reached prior to the financial crisis.”

    “Furthermore, Federal Reserve officials noted that maintaining these exemptions resulted in differing regulatory oversight, raising questions about whether the exemptions provide an unfair competitive advantage,” the report said.

    The dangers of mixing commerce and banking were also noted in the Obama Treasury’s 2009 report on regulatory reform proposals that preceded the extended debate over the Dodd-Frank Act.

    The precedent supporting a wall between banking and commerce was also set by legislation, most recently by the ILC moratorium (which expired in 2013) that was imposed by Dodd-Frank. Let’s also not forget that in 1999 Congress debated the issue of mixing banking and commerce as it considered the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Congress decided not to expand the safety net for commercial firms any further. Lawmakers heeded the lessons of the 1980s and the banking collapse of the early 1930s, recognizing that the system of deposit insurance was created for the protection of depositors of regulated banks and not for the protection of commercial firms.

    As this hotly debated issue is revived once more as a result of industry innovation, the benefits of mixing banking and commerce continue to be a grand illusion.

    Mixing banking and commerce wasn’t a good idea in 1929, 1999, 2006 and 2009, and it’s still not a good idea in 2017. Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    This op-ed first ran in American Banker on August 17, 2017

    Heading Off New Data-Collection Rules

    Jul 05, 2017
    800px-us_capitol_domeWith members of Congress back in their districts this week for the Independence Day recess, ICBA’s regulatory relief initiative remains in full swing. The House has passed Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s comprehensive Financial CHOICE Act regulatory relief bill, the community bank-focused CLEAR Relief Act is picking up bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and the Treasury Department has released a report advocating comprehensive community bank regulatory relief.

    Two outstanding articles in The Economist detail how ICBA and community bankers are using their sterling reputation to overhaul excessive regulatory burdens and how those efforts are paying off with Treasury’s report. But our job as community banking advocates is not limited to rolling back the glut of regulations that have accumulated over many years. It is to replace our one-size-fits-all system with an order of tiered and proportionate rules appropriate to the size and risk profile of regulated institutions.

    That means, in part, heading off dangerous standards before they can be implemented. And that’s precisely what we’re going to have to do with the small-business data-collection and -reporting requirements that the Consumer Financial Protection is advancing now.

    The mandatory reporting requirements under Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act will require community banks and other institutions to collect and report vast quantities of information regarding small-business loan applications. Think the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act for your entire small-business portfolio—it’s not pretty, is it? This paperwork burden will disproportionately harm community banks, waste critical resources and further restrict lending, while offering little benefit to regulators and the financial system.

    The CFPB recently launched its process for implementing these reforms with a request for public input. ICBA will work directly with the CFPB to exempt community banks from any reporting rules it issues, and a bipartisan group of 72 members of Congress recently called on the bureau to approve a community bank exemption. Meanwhile, we are working diligently in Congress to repeal the plan’s statutory authority. Wiping out the Section 1071 authority is a core provision in ICBA’s Plan for Prosperity and is being advanced in the CHOICE Act, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer’s CLEAR Relief Act and legislation that will soon be reintroduced by Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.).

    While ICBA continues working with Congress to advance a repeal, legislators need to hear directly from community bankers on the importance of this policy. Community bankers can do their part by using ICBA’s Be Heard grassroots website to call on their lawmakers to support the CLEAR Relief Act.

    This data-collection rulemaking poses the threat of significant new burdens on community banks at a time when they are already absorbing numerous other regulatory requirements. We simply cannot allow it to further bind community banks and our local economies in additional layers of red tape.

    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.