American Banker: Do you have an agenda yet?

Douglas Freeman: Last year was probably one of the roughest legislative years we bankers ever had. Things we tried didn't work, things we tried to keep from working happened to us. So I believe our No. 1 agenda for next year is to do everything we can do to build a climate to let our retail banks survive for the next 10 years.

My opinion is that the things happening to us today in terms of what we can and can't do are making this business tougher and tougher to survive in.

AB: What do you need in order to survive?

DF: The first and most obvious thing is, we need to have an even playing field. More and more, powers are being given to other kinds of industries but not to banks. So I believe, number one, you have to clear off a lot of the "you can't" regulations.

The second thing is, we've got to really start assessing what things like [1991's Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Improvement Act] and the Community Reinvestment Act and all those other regulations they keep lumping on us are going to do to our industry. The latest proposal in Florida's sales tax on bank services.

AB: How much?

DF: Probably 7% if they pass it.

AB: What does that mean?

DF: We're not sure we know yet. It could be as limited as a tax on service charges. It could be as broad-based as a tax on finance charges.

AB: What's the impact of federal regulation on corporate strategy?

DF: It's huge. When you think about it, FDICIA does everything - even gives us a loan policy for commercial real estate loans. So it plays a tremendous part. More and more, lawmakers are painting corporate bankers into a corner by saying, "This is the way you are supposed to do things."

AB: Things can't be that bad. Not one bank has given up its charter.

DF: The old saying is that the early pioneers got all the arrows. I'm not sure anyone wants to be first. But I would predict that over the next five years, you are going to see that happen, unless they turn things around.

AB: How do you sway Congress?

DF: First, you have to get all of the trade groups working out of the same game plan. The other thing - and we haven't a clue - is who will we be working with next year? Will the President be a Republican, a Democrat, a science major? I don't know. It's hard to tell.

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