Fine Points


Our Train is Rolling

By Camden Fine

It has been uplifting to hear and see. Washington has been positively abuzz lately with constructive dialogue about community banks and Main Street community banking. The speeches and congressional hearings, the endorsements and the recommendations echoing ICBA’s policy messages have sounded from every corner of federal policymaking.

Members of Congress, White House officials and agency leaders have contributed to the discussions, demonstrating a critical awareness and understanding at the highest levels of government of community banking’s current priorities, challenges and issues. Our industry’s policy positions have not only been heard loud and clear, they also are understood as true, valid and important. And in our nation’s capital, allies are won first by hearing, then understanding and ultimately agreeing with your point of view.

Just as important, policy action has accompanied the renewed talk. A few examples:

In addition to holding hearings on regulatory burden, members of Congress have continued to steadily advance several bills, putting many of ICBA’s major Plan for Prosperity regulatory relief measures in line to become law possibly this year or next.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Gov. Daniel Tarullo, who heads up the Fed’s supervision, called for a more proportionally tiered regulatory framework specifically to ease excessive burdens on community banks. Yellen pledged further action by the Fed, while also backing other ICBA priorities, such as ensuring the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s “expected loss” accounting proposal does not yoke community banks with complex modeling processes.

A chorus of members of Congress and others has been urging President Obama to appoint a Federal Reserve governor with firsthand community banking knowledge or experience. Lawmakers are debating whether to require such experience on the board.

After releasing a study on industry consolidation and community banks, the FDIC began issuing a separate set of community banking statistics as part of its quarterly industry reports, a move recognizing how overall industrywide statistics can obscure and misrepresent the vastly different operating realities of megabanks and community banks.

With outspoken and enthusiastic support from the president, a California community banker, Maria Contreras-Sweet, was appointed to lead the Small Business Administration.

These milestones didn’t occur by happenstance. They reflect a broad appreciation for community banks, a result of persistent advocacy work over many months and years by tenacious community bankers. They also signal our industry’s real, concrete progress overall in Washington and, most important, the significant victories that we’re close to achieving.

While riding a rolling freight train it can be hard to distinguish the forest from the trees. Depending on your perspective, the scenery easily blurs together. It’s too easy to lose sight of our collective progress—and your bank’s progress—amid the daily rush, tumult and focus of promoting and defending our industry’s immediate and long-range interests as we do. And it’s more challenging still that our greatest issues—cutting regulatory overkill, expanding tiered regulation and reining back too-big-to-fail—are intertwined. None can be fully and sufficiently addressed without also fixing the others, yet these complex issues must often be dealt with separately through piecemeal policymaking.

Despite these challenges, this train is rolling with steady and undeniable momentum. So don’t lose the forest for the trees. Don’t forget how we defeated Wal-Mart. Remember how we achieved asset-based FDIC assessments. Keep an eye on the horizon. If we stay on our task, we’ll arrive at our destination before you know it.

Reach Camden R. Fine at