Bankers trying to root out lending discrimination in their ranks are being told by federal regulators to use testers posing as customers as a means of identifying specific problems.

That's not a bad idea in Maryland, which has a new law that protects the confidentiality of such data. But it might not be such a hot one in the other 49 states, according to Steven I. Zeisel, general counsel for the Consumer Bankers Association.

In the other states, a tester's finding could be used against the banks in a lawsuit, because the plaintiff could obtain the data during the discovery process.

Words of Caution

Mr. Zeisel, who turned 39 on July 30, dresses like a lawyer from central casting: bow tie, suspenders, over spectacles.

He has been at the trade group for about two years and compliance issues have been one of his major focuses.

"We're not telling members not to test," he said. "But we are telling them that there's a problem and to be aware of it."

He's also making certain that the association's 800 members know about the Maryland law, in case they want to press their own state representatives to adopt similar legislation.

|Banks Are Concerned'

"The New Maryland law came about because of this problem. Banks are concerned that as an industry they can't do their own internal analysis, make their own determination of what the problem is, and look for solutions to that problem without being hung out to dry," he said.

The law protects from discovery in civil suits file in state courts all information from testing and other sources that is gathered for a bank's compliance review committee.

Banks are interested in this type of protection because the Massachusetts attorney general's office has attempted to obtain information on lending submitted by 36 banks to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston for a study on racial bias.

The banks participated in an effort to help correct any problems. Now that evidence might be used against them by the state.

The Massachusetts Bankers Association has filed a suit to stop the attorney general on jurisdictional grounds.

"A lot of banks are upset that what started out as a voluntary effort to help to address this problem -- to find out what was wrong and to fix it -- was turned into a potential source of liability for them," Mr. Zeisel said.

Mr. Zeisel grew up in Washington, D.C., and now lives right outside the city in the Maryland suburb of Silver Spring with his wife and their 9-month-old son.

His work on compliance issues often finds him on Capitol Hill talking to Congressmen, and he also is a fixture at Consumer Bankers Association seminars on the subject.

A recent meeting attracted hundreds of bankers, and he said most of them were interested in ways to improve minority lending.

Are bankers looking for an easy solution?

"No," he said. "I find that Congress comes looking for an easy solution and the bankers are the ones who recognize how difficult the problem is."

Steven I. Zeisel

Age: 39 Born: Washington, D.C. Home: Silver Spring, Md. Title: Vice president and senior counsel, Consumer Bankers Association Education: He received his BA from Carleton College and his JD from the University of Maryland School of law. Experience: He was a senior attorney with the Federal Reserve Board, in-house counsel for Equitable Bank in Baltimore and for Maryland National Bank after the two merged. Most memorable experience: Recent birth of his first child. Interests: Acting, the theater

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