As director of tax and accounting at the American Bankers Association, Ms. Fisher advocates the industry's positions before Congress, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the Internal Revenue Service, and the banking agencies. The issues are complicated, the fights are long, and the banking industry rarely scores clear victories. In fact, some of Ms. Fisher's proudest moments involve damage control and compromise instead of outright success. "If you asked the bankers, 'Was FASB 115 a great victory?' they would laugh and say no," she said, referring to a 1993 rule requiring banks to mark securities available for sale to market. "But you have to remember the box that we were in," Ms. Fisher said. Some policymakers were pushing for all securities to be marked to market, "but they wound up not going that far," she said. "Our lobbying efforts helped us end up with a rule that was a lot less bad than everyone thought it was going to be." The ABA is going head to head with FASB again over accounting rules for derivatives. The accounting standards board has proposed requiring banks to mark either all derivatives or all financial instruments to market. "That's not much of a choice," noted Ms. Fisher, who is a certified public accountant. "ABA has strongly opposed both of those approaches for years." How should derivatives be accounted for? "I wish we had the answer for that," she said. "I don't know." But Ms. Fisher is sure FASB is oversimplifying a complex accounting problem and should start over. "FASB should take the status quo and write a new rule that reflects what's going on," she suggested. "Right now, the rules are in different places and they send mixed signals." Ms. Fisher also is pressing the banking regulators to take a fresh look at the call reports banks file four times a year. "We would like to sit down with the regulators and see what's useful," she said. "Toss the call report up in the air and see where it lands." Halving the size of the report, which for a $100 million-asset bank is 29 pages long, would be a good beginning. "I would be satisfied with the first time through getting 50%," she said. The ABA also is lobbying Congress for a cut in the capital gains tax, an expansion of individual retirement accounts, and the tax-free conversion of common trust funds. Depositors have about $120 billion in these trusts, which are essentially mutual fund predecessors. In order to move money from a common trust into a mutual fund, however, the owner of the fund must pay taxes on any capital gains before reinvestment, Ms. Fisher explained. This causes two problems: The tax discourages investors from converting their trusts into more up-to-date mutual funds, and if investors choose to convert, banks and investors both lose because funds that were simply shifted around lose value during taxation. The Senate tax bill, which has been folded into the budget reconciliation package, allows for tax-free conversion of common trust funds. Though the House has passed a similar bill in two previous Congresses, its package does not include tax-free conversion. The two chambers are still working out their differences. To keep on top of these and a variety of other tax and accounting issues, Ms. Fisher relies on solid preparation. "The accounting and tax rules for banks are constantly changing," she said. "You may have something new crop up, and if you're not aware of it ahead of time, you're going to really get caught. It could already be passed while you're still in your office trying to figure out what's going on." To stay ahead of the game, Ms. Fisher said she reads constantly, confers regularly with the ABA's tax and accounting committees, and develops ties with key members of Congress, FASB, and the regulatory agencies. "How receptive the agencies are to you depends on how much of your homework you've done," she said. "I think a real important part of our job is what we do before we call them." Ms. Fisher has received high marks from bankers. "She's done an excellent job of getting our views across and our points listened to," said Bill Roberts, controller at First Chicago Bank and chairman of the ABA's accounting committee. Born in Athens, Tenn., and educated at Auburn University in Alabama, Ms. Fisher is a southerner through and through. She came to Washington 10 years ago to work for the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. In 1988, she jumped to the ABA to work for Henry Ruempler, the man who held the job she has now. She got the top job in May 1994 after Mr. Ruempler left the ABA to join Ernst & Young. Before moving east, Ms. Fisher worked for Compass Bank in Birmingham, where she did asset/liability management for correspondent banks. "Her experience in the industry allows her to jump right in," Mr. Ruempler said. "If you don't know the industry, you can't do the job." Mr. Serb writes for the Medill News Service.
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