Many of you know that I am a history buff. Well, last weekend I was reading a history of the American Revolution and I got to thinking about how history is full of interesting parallels.
On Tories and Rebels
I was thinking of the recent financial crisis and the several conflicts between Main Street and Wall Street over the past two years. And then I thought about these conflicts in the context of the American Revolution. During the American Revolution colonists were branded either Tories (those supportive of staying united with England and the British Crown) or rebels (those who wanted their voice to be heard and to stand on their own). In that context, I think of ICBA as the rebels. The rebels of 1776 had only a fraction of the resources of the mighty British Empire, yet they had the gumption to speak out and say, “Enough is enough” and “We have the equal rights of all Englishmen, and we will fight to enforce and preserve those rights.”
I see Wall Street and their spokespersons in Washington D.C. in the context of the British Empire. They have all the resources, funding, assets and access to power. And like Great Britain, they are horrified that community banks (the rebels) are speaking out and are angry at the unfair treatment they have received during this crisis. Like the political leadership in Great Britain during the American Revolution, today’s Wall Street titans and their lobbyists in Washington are pleading to stay united: “We must all stay together. Preserve the status quo or we can’t be effective.” Well, as I am sure a colonial rebel would have said if asked, “Who is we? Whose status quo are we
protecting here?” An interesting question to ponder.
I know one thing. I am sure glad those courageous souls of 1776 did not mute their voices merely to stay safe and united. Because they had the courage to stand up for their rights and speak out, we have all enjoyed living in the greatest nation on earth.
On Opinions: Whose Opinion?
How come when community banks speak as one and take a position on financial reform that disagrees with the Wall Street megafirms and their association allies in Washington, it is the community banks that are branded as “divisive,” but when Wall Street and their allied groups in Washington take a position with which community banks disagree, Wall Street is NOT being divisive; it is speaking with “a united industry voice”? Whose industry? Their industry?
Granted the Wall Street megafirms do control the vast majority of the nation’s financial assets, but does that give them the right to speak for those of us on Main Street? Are community banks not allowed to take positions that differ from Wall Street and express same in public? And if we dare take those positions as a group, then are we the divisive ones? Just a thought.
Facts Are Stubborn Things
Finally, please note the quote below from John Adams. John Adams had the courage to stand up and defend the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. Even though he knew it would make him the most unpopular man in the Massachusetts colony, he also knew that justice and fairness are always the right course–no matter how unpopular. To the best of our abilities, ICBA will always do our best to do the right thing for community banks no matter how others want to spin the facts. ICBA is never afraid of facts, just as we will never be afraid to do the right thing for community banks no matter how unpopular. (By the way, Adams won acquittal for the British troops–and it was a just verdict.)
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
--Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials, December 1770, John Adams
, US diplomat and politician (1735-1826)
P.S. Like Adams defending the British, ICBA will work with and defend the industry against unjust attacks and unfair characterizations. ICBA will work with all industry parties on issues of common concern, with our eye always on the best interests of the nation’s community banks.
“Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics” and the Truth about the CFPA
My fellow Missourian Mark Twain made the following observations about lies:
“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
“A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
I was raised in a Southern household. In the South there is a big difference between a “lie” and a “damn lie.” A “damn lie” is a grievous thing. In Washington a damn lie is sometimes referred to as the ol’ Potomac Two Step. The objective of the Potomac Two Step (like a damn lie) is to deceive—either by getting the subject of your deception to focus on the wrong thing or by having the subject run off in the wrong direction. Since this is Super Bowl season, the NFL equivalent would be the misdirection play.
Well, these days it seems that there’s a damn lie going around about ICBA supporting the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. And to paraphrase Mark Twain, that lie has traveled halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
Whether in Washington, D.C., or in Missouri, or anywhere else for that matter, such damn lies are fighting words. The truth is this—ICBA has never supported the creation of a CFPA over the community banking industry or any FDIC-insured banks for that matter. And anyone who says different is telling a damn lie.
Ponder this: Who has the most to lose in the current versions of financial reform? Answer: Wall Street and the unregulated financial firms. Who has the most to gain? Answer: community banks.
Now ask this question: Who are the only groups that exclusively represent community bank interests without compromise? Answer: ICBA and state community banking groups. Now ask: Who represents a broad range of financial interests including Wall Street megafirms and some nonbank financial firms? Answer: many state and national financial trade groups.
Finally, what trade group has been universally recognized among Washington, D.C., policymakers, the national and international trade press and major national newspapers and publications as having fought hardest and gained the most for the community banking industry? Answer: ICBA.
The truth is that ICBA is fighting hard to have Congress bring balanced competition to our financial-services system by requiring that all financial firms that grant credit comply with the same consumer-compliance laws that all our members stagger under on a daily basis. In other words, require the nonbank financial firms that caused the great bulk of consumer abuses to comply with the current laws we are all burdened by. ICBA wants to make sure that community banks don’t suffer under new and very onerous consumer laws (whether or not there is a CFPA) while the unregulated financial firms get a pass.
Some in Washington and elsewhere want to spin the ICBA position to their benefit, so they spread the damn lie that we support CFPA. These damn lies are mainly spread by those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo—the status quo that has so crippled the community banking industry and forced community banks and our nation’s taxpayers to pay dearly for the reckless and irresponsible sins of Wall Street and their allied nonbank financial firms.
Last week I came across an American Banker article titled “Lawmakers Dealing on Consumer Protection,” with a quote from Douglas Elliot of the Brookings Institution.
Elliot says, "I'm confident that the administration proposal [CFPA] won't be what we end up with. There will be some significant compromise. The bankers, in particular the community bankers, have made a lot of headway in pushing against the Consumer Financial Protection Agency."
That quote struck me for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a recognition of ICBA’s growing political clout coming from someone who clearly doesn’t have a dog in this fight. Second, it underscores the value of staying at the table rather than just walking away and leaving policymakers free to restructure the regulatory system without any input from community bankers.
ICBA chose to stay at the table so that we could get policymakers to recognize that community banks should NOT have a new regulatory agency imposing its burdens, enforcement or examinations on us.
We will continue to stay at the table, even though our success isn’t sitting well with the megabanks on Wall Street, because without the independent voice of ICBA speaking out on community bank issues, the voice of community bankers would be lost in the ever-growing chorus of Wall Street megavoices storming Capitol Hill.
There would not have been a CFPA proposal in the first place had the nonbank subsidiaries of the Wall Street firms and other “shadow banking” firms not abused customers so grievously. The CFPA proposal was not born out of abuses in the community banking industry—we all know who was responsible for spawning it.
When I came to Washington from Missouri, I found out the hard way that nothing is what it seems. Damn lies are everywhere. For a Missouri community banker like me, that’s a hard reality to adjust to. Evidently, those who want to defeat the ICBA pro-community bank agenda have seized on the CFPA as a way to spin and misrepresent the ICBA position. They want to make it look like we’re losing ground, and it’s a damn lie—we’re the ones who are winning.
On June 20, 2009, while cohosting CNBC’s Squawk Box, I responded to a question about CFPA by host Becky Quick. I stated that creating a separate consumer-protection agency was a “bad, bad, bad idea because the very delicate balance between safety and soundness and consumer protection would be lost.” I went on to state, “Examinations are more marble cake than layer cake. Safety and soundness and consumer protections must be blended together for an effective examination. One cannot have domination over the other without causing harm both to the bank and the consumers.”
ICBA opposes new consumer statutes imposed on community banks and will fight to bring ALL nonbank financial firms under the same consumer regulations that community banks must labor under now. We have enough consumer protections on the books. Now let’s protect community banks and the nation’s taxpayers from too-big-to-fail.
Who Is Really Dividing the Banking Industry?
Since my blog is still very new, I thought I would remind everyone that each week I will be sharing some of my thoughts with you on an informal basis. These are intended to be just my off the cuff thoughts about issues of the day impacting the community banking industry and the financial services industry overall.
I don’t yet know if it’s safe to blog when your blood is boiling, but I guess I’ll find out. Two recently published articles echo themes that ICBA has been hitting on for years: the unequal treatment in Washington between too-big-to-fail Wall Street financial firms and “too-small-to-save” Main Street community banks. This inequity is shocking and thinking about it always makes my blood run hot.
Yet every time ICBA speaks out on behalf of community banks, we’re accused of being “divisive”—or worse. In a game as old as Washington, the big banks and their hired guns
stack the deck, then turn around and
of playing unfairly.
One of the articles
in The Hill
newspaper reports that the Wall Street megafirms are ramping up their Washington lobbying. The other article
, in the Chicago Tribune,
details how Wall Street is spending heavily to fund political campaigns to make sure it keeps its favored status.
Everyone knows that the lobbying machines of the Wall Street banks are many times larger and their pockets much deeper than ICBA’s, so how is it possible that the little community banks are the ones destroying unity?
For years the voice of the big banks has been the only one heard. These giant Wall Street firms not only have their own individual lobby shops, but they have their own associations – the Financial Services Roundtable (only the 100 largest financial firms can belong) and the Financial Services Forum (again, only the largest can belong) that represent only their own interests. In addition, they are members of the American Bankers Association and several other national financial trade groups in Washington.
Now that community banks are finally being listened to, instead of making room for the kind of diversity that fuels our two-tiered banking system, there’s an all-out effort to silence us.
If the very largest megabanks can have their own lobbying machines and voice, the small community banks deserve their own lobbying force and voice.
Believe me; community banks need it a lot more than the megabanks, which already have their alumni running Treasury and other government agencies.
Community banks are already suffering mightily from Wall Street’s sins. Yet, when ICBA calls for laws that will allow the breakup of the TBTF institutions, or for a more fair FDIC assessment system, or for the systemically dangerous firms to prefund their own bailouts so community banks don’t get hit by the next meltdown, we find opposition at every turn.
Time and again, we have reached out to other groups to join us in removing regulatory burden from community banks and shifting it where it belongs – on the shadow industry and the megabanks. We have asked to no avail
But we’ll keep trying. ICBA stands for community banks and only community banks, in the same way the Financial Services Roundtable stands for the megabanks. We will continue to fight without compromise for having an equal voice at the financial table and equal treatment under law.
Taking on the Big Guys
Just as one of the most challenging years since the Great Depression was drawing to a close, ICBA and our close to 5,000 member community banks found ourselves the center of attention when the Huffington Post launched a campaign to encourage people to take their money out of the megabanks and support community banks instead. Tired of bailouts and bonuses, fed up with impersonal treatment and frustrated that getting new loans or financing old ones has become nearly impossible, the Move Your Money
campaign is urging Americans to fight back against the big guys.
Isn’t that just what ICBA has been saying for years and been trumpeting especially loudly the past two years?
It’s gratifying to know that we’ve been so successful in getting our messages out that we’ve helped spur this very pro-community bank, populist campaign.
Ever since this movement got started more than two weeks ago, I’ve been hearing from community bankers across the country, just as pleased as I am that citizens are finally talking about the differences between those enormous Wall Street financial institutions and our Main Street community banks.
We at ICBA agree that the more people learn about, appreciate and use community banks, the better it will be for our economy. But, unfortunately, solving the problems that led to our financial crisis isn’t as simple as just changing banks. If we really want to put an end to the too-big-to-fail policies that brought this country so close to financial collapse, we’ve got to hit the big guys where it hurts—passing legislation and regulations that will finally rein in the risk-taking and limit the size and scope of systemically dangerous institutions.
ICBA’s innovative Web site—MyCommunityMyBank.org—lets people add their voices to the call to hold Wall Street accountable by sending messages to Congress in their own words about why we must cut the big guys down to size. It’s a great grassroots campaign and has already generated a significant number of citizen advocates. You can help us spread the word about the site as widely as possible. The more voices we have, the more successful we will be in truly passing meaningful reform.
On this issue—as on many others—ICBA basically stands alone. We aren’t interested in taking popular positions, we are interested in doing the right thing, whether that curries us favor with other groups or not. Our interest is what is right for community banks and the citizens and markets they serve. I have to admit that it’s very nice to find ourselves riding the populist groundswell of Americans who are firmly on the side of community bankers—and are ready to stand behind us in Washington. I hope you are among them.
Adding My Voice
Anyone who knows me knows I hate to pass up any opportunity to talk about community banks. As a community banker for more than 20 years, I’ve seen firsthand the important role local banks play throughout America. Our business depends on building and maintaining personal relationships with our customers, supporting other small businesses that in turn provide jobs and services and helping our communities. Whether it’s donating toward Little League uniforms or vans for veterans, community banks are continually involved in improving the day-to-day life of average, everyday people.
If I didn’t believe passionately in the importance of community banks, I couldn’t do my job. And if I didn’t believe just as passionately in the core principles of ICBA, I couldn’t head up the only organization that speaks exclusively for community banks.
We’ve spent a long time educating policymakers and the public on the differences between Main Street and Wall Street banks. But just for the record, here’s a brief snapshot of those core beliefs.
ICBA and its community-banker members …
- Support fair competition in financial services,
- Support the separation of companies engaging in banking activities and those engaging in commercial activities,
- Believe in a balanced financial system that does not favor any segment of the financial-services sector,
- Support the dual federal and state banking system to promote overall financial strength and diversity, and
- Oppose the concentration of economic and financial-services resources.
More than that, community banks create symbiotic relationships with the communities they serve, favor local decision-making while adhering to the highest business practices and ethical standards, and support a democratically governed association where each member bank has a voice and a vote.
That’s asking a lot of ICBA and our members, especially in these difficult economic times. But community bankers tend to be an optimistic, resilient and practical bunch, so we’ve stayed true to our mission even when it meant missing out on the outsized profits of the boom years.
Now we’re working hard to help get the country on the right track. This is the year for the debate on financial regulatory reform to take front and center. We may not know the results of Congress’s efforts until as late as next summer. In the meantime, there’s an awful lot to debate.
Because I am at the table for some of those discussions, and because I have a ringside seat for other fascinating events happening here in Washington, D.C., colleagues and friends around the country have been urging me to start a blog. It’s one way for me to provide more immediate insights about ICBA’s efforts and ideas to community bankers and the public at large—and keep you posted about what is important and emerging—as well as give you an opportunity to provide feedback and comments.
About Cam Fine
Camden R. Fine is president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), a national trade association representing the interests of nearly 7,000 community banks of all sizes and charter types. ICBA has member banks in every state and territory in the United States.
A native Missourian and career community banker, Fine came to ICBA in May 2003 as president-elect and became president and CEO in March 2004. Prior to coming to ICBA, Fine chartered and organized Midwest Independent Bank of Jefferson City, Mo., and served as its president and CEO for nearly 20 years. In addition, Fine owned Mainstreet Bank of Ashland, Mo., a $50-million-asset community bank. Fine also has a strong background in government. In 1978, he joined the Missouri state government as a budget analyst under then Governor Joe Teasdale, and in 1981 former governor Christopher “Kit” Bond appointed Fine as the Director of the State Division of Taxation.
Under Fine’s leadership, ICBA has had a string of legislative and regulatory successes. In 2007, ICBA was the prime force in stopping Wal-Mart’s attempts to charter a commercial bank. More recently, Fine’s advocacy efforts have been successful in the enactment of many core ICBA policy positions during the recent financial crisis. These achievements include permanently raising deposit insurance levels to $250,000; broadening the deposit-insurance assessment base, saving community banks billions in insurance assessments in future years; enacting meaningful new restraints on too-big-to-fail institutions; and carving out community banks from several new fees and examinations in consumer-protection legislation.
Fine was educated at the Virginia Military Institute and the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he double-majored in history and English. He is a distinguished graduate and past chairman of the Stonier Graduate School of Banking. Fine’s thesis, titled “Banker’s Banks: A Correspondent Alternative for Community Banks,” was published and included in the Harvard Business School library. He currently serves on several industry boards and committees as well as on the President’s Committee of the World Savings Bank Institute headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.
Fine has been a passionate advocate for community bank issues for more than 20 years and has been featured and had opinion pieces published in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today and The Hill newspapers.Fine has made numerous appearances as guest host on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business News, Bloomberg, PBS and NPR. He has been recognized by The Hill newspaper and CEO Update as one of Washington, D.C.'s most effective and influential trade association CEO's and lobbyists for five consecutive years.