By Terry J. Jorde
Congratulations, community bankers! This week we saw once again that our industry’s hard work and determination on behalf of regulatory relief can achieve tangible results in Washington.
Following passionate advocacy from ICBA and community bankers, regulators issued a proposed rule
to simplify community bank call reports and laid out their plan for considering additional reporting relief in the coming months. While there is still a long way to go to get the relief we’ve advocated, this announcement is an important first step in one of our top-priority regulatory relief initiatives. And it is due exclusively to the community bankers who have stood up and demanded change.
The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), which is made up of all of the bank regulatory agencies, this week issued the first part of their plan, which would delete certain data items and revise reporting thresholds. More important, however, is the council’s pledge to evaluate the creation of a streamlined quarterly call report for community banks and to continue its dialogue with our industry. This promise is a big win for community banks because it could ultimately lead to our goal—a shorter, less burdensome and more sensible call report, which is a key element in ICBA’s overall regulatory relief strategy.
Lest you think the regulators came up with this idea out of thin air, it is important to understand that getting to this point has required education, patience and diplomacy. And our work is far from over. But make no mistake about it, any success we achieve on this front has a very specific source—community bankers and their ICBA team in Washington!
The announcement comes one year—almost to the day—after ICBA leadership met with the FFIEC
in our offices and delivered a petition with nearly 15,000 signatures representing almost 2,500 community banks urging call report relief. The ICBA petition, which we spent a month collecting signatures on last year, was inspired by a broad industry survey
, in which we found the annual cost of preparing the call report has increased for 86 percent of respondents over the past 10 years. Further, 98 percent of respondents said a short-form call report would reduce their regulatory burden, and 72 percent said the reduction would be “substantial.” Banks under $500 million told us they spent on average 122 hours per year on the call report, while preparation time for banks greater than $500 million jumped to an average of 274 hours per year!
Having real community bankers on ICBA’s staff—those who have actually prepared the quarterly call report—helps the association understand first-hand the burden it poses to Main Street institutions. ICBA’s experienced team of dedicated staff has heard the industry’s calls for reform loud and clear and has taken that message directly to the regulators. And to their credit, the regulators are listening and have acted upon the industry’s call to action. But the real credit for this crucial step forward goes to the thousands of community bankers who answered surveys, signed petitions, wrote letters, spoke up at EGRPRA meetings and hosted regulators in their banks to personally show them the burden of call report preparation.
ICBA is in this for the duration and will continue working with regulators to maximize call report relief for community banks. But for now, I say kudos to community bankers. Thank you for your efforts to achieve positive results in the face of arduous regulatory hurdles. And never forget that you are capable of making real change in Washington through your hard work, determination and dedication to doing what’s right for communities across this great nation.
Let’s Put a Stop to Credit Union End Run Around Congress
The United States has three branches of government to prevent any one from having too much power. The tax-exempt credit union industry apparently skipped this civics lesson because it obviously doesn’t believe it should have to listen to Congress.
The National Credit Union Administration has proposed dramatically revising business-lending rules for these tax-subsidized institutions. Current law allows any credit union to make business loans worth up to 12.25 percent of its total assets. While lawmakers have repeatedly declined to advance controversial legislation to raise this cap, the NCUA has unilaterally done so on behalf of the industry it is supposed to regulate.
It is up to community bankers to call out the NCUA for sidestepping the cap established by Congress and attempting to extend the industry’s government-funded competitive advantage. ICBA offers community bankers a customizable letter to Congress and the NCUA
to express opposition to this misguided plan.
The NCUA’s proposal blatantly skirts the statutory cap by exempting more loans from it, removing explicit loan-to-value limits and increasing the population cap for community charters by 400 percent. By piling on additional exemptions, the plan increases risks to the financial system. According to the Capital Policy Analytics Group
, credit unions with the highest levels of business loans represent a disproportionate share of credit union failures, showing the risks of blanketing these institutions with new business-lending authorities.
The NCUA wants to assuage public concerns over these risks by requiring credit unions to create credit policies and risk-rate their loans. Rather than offering reassurance, this suggestion is an alarming admission of the weak oversight and regulatory standards now in place for credit unions. Credit policies and risk-rating systems have been standard community bank practices for decades—where have the credit unions been?
The truth is that aggressive and fast-growing credit unions are seeking to leverage their tax-exempt status to siphon top-performing small-business loans away from community banks, which actually pay taxes to their federal, state and local governments. Nearly 99 percent of credit unions below the federally mandated cap can already expand their lending if they choose to do so, with no change to federal law or regulation. And there are already plenty of ways to circumvent the limit because loans under $50,000 and Small Business Administration loans as large as $5.5 million don’t count toward it. Continuing to relax these congressionally mandated restrictions will only serve the interests of the riskiest, growth-oriented credit unions, while putting the broader financial sector at greater peril.
Credit union business-lending caps were established by Congress because these tax-subsidized institutions are designed to serve people of modest means with a common bond. These days, multi-billion-dollar credit unions are allowed to have virtually no common bond among members, yet they continue to operate tax-free. Meanwhile, they remain unique among lenders due to their exemption from regulations such as the Community Reinvestment Act.
Community bankers, tell Congress and the NCUA
that the regulator should focus on implementing and enforcing credit union laws as they are written. If credit unions want to operate like banks, they should be taxed and required to meet the same set of regulatory standards. They can’t have it both ways.
This Month, There’s No Place Like Home
It’s hard to believe that the August congressional recess is already upon us, but in many ways the community banking industry is well-positioned to take advantage of this pause in the legislative session. While ICBA and community bankers have once again advanced a variety of regulatory relief measures through aggressive advocacy, we’re going to need a real show of force to finish the job.
And what’s true for Dorothy and Toto is true for grassroots advocacy—there’s no place like home. With party politics frustrating the advance of regulatory reforms that enjoy widespread bipartisan support in Congress, ICBA is calling on community bankers to make their voices heard while lawmakers are back home in their districts this month.
ICBA’s Main Street Matters
online resource center helps community bankers invite their members of Congress to be community bankers for a day. By showing Congress firsthand the impact of the overwhelming burden facing community banks and their customers, we can really demonstrate to lawmakers what relief means for the constituents and communities they represent.
Look, I know how much work it is being a community banker—it doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to meet with policymakers and advocate on a bunch of complex regulations. But as community bankers know all too well, Congress just isn’t going to act on the excessive regulatory burdens we face day in and day out unless we get in their faces and demand change. That’s why ICBA has designed Main Street Matters
and our other grassroots resources to help community bankers make their voices heard in the halls of Congress at the same time they’re doing their jobs and supporting local economies.
As I said, when it comes to grassroots advocacy, there really is no place like home. So call out your members of Congress, invite them to your community bank, show them what overregulation is doing to their constituents, and remind them that they’re not in Washington anymore!
Regulatory Burden Is Capturing Big Headlines
While ICBA continues our full-court press toward advancing community bank regulatory relief all the way through Congress and to the president’s desk, we are also making noticeable headway in raising public awareness of the problem via the national news media. The Washington Times recently ran a special section
featuring a series of articles, editorials and ICBA op-eds on community bank overregulation and the association’s proposals to address the issue.
Titled “How Excessive Regulation is Crushing Main Street: The Inside Story on the Squeeze Facing the Nation’s Community Banks,” the special section includes comprehensive coverage of the dangers of a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation and the resulting impact on consumers and local communities. It also spotlights specific areas of concern for our industry, such as Operation Choke Point, the call report, credit union oversight, barriers to de novo charters and cybersecurity rules.
The Washington Times feature
complements ICBA’s ongoing, aggressive strategies to raise awareness in Washington and nationwide of the regulatory challenges facing community banks and what it means for our Main Street economy. I strongly recommend that community bankers—and anyone else concerned about the impact of red tape on American jobs and communities—read this important series and share it with your lawmakers to demonstrate the critical need for congressional action on which Main Street is depending.
Accounting Standards Next in Long Line of Cookie-Cutter Regulations
You’ve heard the old line that an elephant is a mouse built to government specifications? We’re all familiar with how government spending tends to grow rather than shrink. An equally troubling tendency perhaps even more familiar to community banks is the way governments often apply a cookie-cutter approach to their policies.
Regulations are inherently rigid and often fail to account for the unique circumstances of individuals and businesses. That often means a one-size-fits-all approach to a community banking model based on individual relationships and one-on-one service. Think Basel III—a capital framework designed for global financial institutions that nevertheless applies uniform standards on Main Street community banks.
While ICBA and community bankers have given everything they’ve got on Capitol Hill and at the regulatory agencies to institute a system of tiered regulation based on size and risk, a radical change to financial accounting due out as soon as this year threatens to deal yet another blow to locally based banking.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board is expected to release its updated accounting standards on credit losses in the fourth quarter. These new standards would require complex modeling and compel banks to recognize losses much earlier than necessary in the credit-loss cycle, penalizing community banks for investing in loans and securities.
What does this mean for community banks and their customers? For one, it will mean fewer loans. Currently, community banks don’t make an allowance for loan losses unless they have evidence that they’ll incur a default. Under the FASB’s “expected loss” model, banks would instead take a hit the moment they make a loan. Not only would banks have to recognize a loss on day one, but the proposal requires complex and expensive modeling tools that will inhibit the ability of local banks to make localized financial decisions. 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.
Further, this plan will only add to the regulatory burdens overwhelming the community banking industry. Forecasting inputs used to predict potential loan losses will never be strong enough to satisfy the scrutiny of bank examiners. There will always be another rock to look under as examiners try to ensure a more precise model. So what we have is an approach to loan losses that is at once expensive, burdensome, time consuming—and yet never enough to satisfy examiners. Bottom line, this proposal is a double whammy of decreased lending and increased regulatory scrutiny for community banks and the customers they serve.
But there is one other saying that this whole deal brings to mind, which is that you should never try to out-stubborn a cat.
Community bankers are a stubborn lot and aren’t about to back down from this radical policy change. It’s why we’ve come up with an alternative proposal
for institutions with less than $10 billion in assets that bases loan-loss provisions on historical losses for similar assets. It’s why we’ve met repeatedly with the FASB, including several times at the board’s headquarters in Norwalk, Conn. And it’s why nearly 5,000 community bankers signed a petition advocating ICBA’s simpler approach.
Our nation’s hometown banks have fought and clawed so they can continue serving their communities amid a raft of new regulatory burdens. We’re not about to let yet another cookie-cutter government regulation take hold without a fight.