Fight for What’s Right

By Bill Loving

As a community banker in West Virginia, I would hope the furthest thing from my mind would be Wall Street. Like all community bankers, I’ve got plenty of other things to keep me busy—meeting with local customers and small-business owners, lending within my community of Franklin, W.Va., conferring with employees of the bank, dealing with regulators—the list goes on. But these are things that come with being a community banker. It’s part of the job, but I wake up wanting to fulfill this responsibility every morning because I know I’m making a difference in people’s lives.

One thing I shouldn’t have to do, and don’t even want to do, is to be distracted or concerned about Wall Street—a place nearly 400 miles away from Franklin. But lately, as a community banker, as your ICBA chairman and as an American citizen, I have had no choice. The sad fact of the matter is that Wall Street’s problems became my problem when its megabanks nearly tanked our nation’s economy during the biggest financial debacle since the Great Depression. When Wall Street’s negligence affected what was happening within West Virginia, I was angry—and I still am to this day.

How could Wall Street be so reckless, gambling with people’s livelihoods, with our nation’s economic wellbeing—all to line their pockets with extra cash? As a relationship banker, that’s not how I do business and that’s not how community banks ever have or want to do business.

But now Wall Street is back in the news for, once again, receiving preferential treatment. I’m sure you heard all about this when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that the immense size of too-big-to-fail financial firms inhibits Justice Department prosecutions on Wall Street. I’m not sure about you, but the way I read this, the megabanks are not only too-big-to-fail, they are too-big-to-jail.

That’s absurd! If I or any other community banker were to do what they did, we’d be hauled away in handcuffs and shame, without an afterthought. This injustice is egregious, and I, along with ICBA, refuse to accept this reality. So we’re working to create a new one—one that respects our financial and justice systems.

That’s why ICBA has been working fervidly so that policymakers, regulators and the media see through the Wall Street spin machine. The simple fact is that too-big-to-fail must be addressed so that our economy operates under the rule of free markets. If the too-big-to-fail disease is left untreated, our economy will be at the mercy of the megabanks—the antithesis of a free-market economic system. 

The good news is that ICBA’s voice—the chorus of community bank voices—is being heard. In March, the Senate voted 99-0 to approve an ICBA-supported budget amendment to address subsidies for too-big-to-fail financial institutions. When was the last time the Senate agreed on anything? That tells you something right there.

We’re making progress and we’ll continue to make progress in the fight against too-big-to-fail. After all, our country needs community banks to fight for what’s right. We owe it to ourselves; we owe it to our customers and communities. We owe it to future generations who are depending on us for a bright economic future. We must be—or become—engaged! Remember, if not you … then who?