When the books are closed on 1994, it will mark the end of a momentous 12 months or Savings & Community Bankers of America and the industry it serves. It may also signal the onset of events which, over time, could rival in significance those which so dramatically influenced the savings institutions and banking businesses a decade ago.
Delegates to SCBA's Government Affairs Conference last March observed a perceptible shift in political attitudes toward the business. One congressional opinion leader hailed the industry's resurgence as one of the greatest success stories of the American financial system in this century. "You're the bankers my people want to do business with," another assorted, A thrift executive who had trouble communicating with a particular congressman a few years ago was asked by that representative to participate with him in a public-service video message.
The political process began to produce tangible responses to our insistence that a strong, well-managed, well-capitalized business needed a regulatory framework vastly different from one with weak capital and poor earnings. The regulatory relief provisions of the Community Development and Regulatory improvement Act hardly make up for the excesses of the past, but they may well prove to be the first real step toward achieving a proper equilibrium between concerns over safety and the need for competitive viability.
And what of the interstate banking bill? After what seems like decades of fierce and fruitless debate and negotiation, it sailed through the House of Representatives under a procedure normally reserved for noncontroversial measures. Perhaps Congress was merely ratifying economic reality, tardily as usual. Perhaps the agendas and attention of other interest groups were focused elsewhere.
The fact remains, a major issue on the banking reform agenda is off the slate.
Far more important to SCBA members were issues such as Community Reinvestment Act reform, FDIC initiatives on mutual-to-stock conversion, overhaul of the bankruptcy code, lender liability, FHA loan limits, and credit unions. On every front, real progress was made. Even the persistent stonewalling in Congress over establishing a level playing field with credit unions may have been breached, at least on the CRA issue. There seems, at long last, to be some recognition that the cost and availability of credit are being influenced by inequities which are very real, not merely conceptual -- the tax-free status of credit unions and the looser regulatory framework governing mortgage bankers and other hybrids.
Looking ahead, SCBA and its members will be challenged mightily by the looming disparity in deposit insurance premiums, the likely move to merge the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and our own initiatives for reform of the Federal Home Loan Bank System.
How the premium issue is approached is particularly critical. It seems to me that these imperatives should be kept in mind: another crisis of confidence in federal deposit insurance cannot be risked.
A new universe of weakened institutions should not be created just when earnings and capital have recovered; BIF- and SAIF-insured institutions must develop a solution cooperatively, avoiding the adversarial postures which permit our true competitors to play divide-and-conquer.
Any one of those issues has the potential to put into play a broad range of proposals to reshape our banking system and the regulatory regime that governs it.
Every sector of the banking community must be prepared. Every banker should be ready to participate in the debates within industry and political councils.
However, it remains to be seen whether we will end up working at the margins or coming together, as we should at long last, to craft and carry forward a vision of what truly represents the long-term best interests of our financial system and the public it serves.