Comptroller's Man in West Denies Tales of Crackdown

SAN FRANCISCO - William J. Stolte laughs good-naturedly at the rumors about his office.

"We haven't targeted California for anything," said Mr. Stolte, who oversees the western district of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The district supervises national banks in 12 western states except for BankAmerica Corp., Security Pacific Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co., which are regulated out of Washington.

Rumors of SWAT Teams

A series of hard-nosed examinations by Mr. Stolte's examiners have left California bankers buzzing about a regulatory crackdown. Executives swap tales, often apocryphal, of special Controller's office SWAT teams dispatched to the West Coast.

The examiners have left a broad trail of loan-loss provisions and writedowns across the Golden State and elsewhere in the West. Some of the region's top performers, including U.S. Bancorp, Portland, Ore., and City National Corp., Beverly Hills, Calif., saw earnings tumble after audits by the Comptroller's office this year.

What has happened, Mr. Stolte said, is that his district has increased its full-time staff by about 50. In addition, recent changes in pay policy have caused a nationwide staff reshuffling, bringing to the West a number of senior examiners from elsewhere.

Rumors about a roving real estate examination team are also inaccurate, Mr. Stolte said. Last year, the district organized an internal consulting team of about half a dozen senior examiners to ensure that field staff members applied common standards to real estate loan evaluations. Though the unit reviewed the procedures of field examiners, it never performed any audits of its own.

Examination results out West reflect underlying conditions, not a regulatory crackdown, Mr. Stolte said. "I firmly believe we haven't changed our standards. We're simply applying the same standards to declining real estate values."

Grace Under Pressure

Mr. Stolte, 45, joined the Comptroller's office 23 years ago, following graduation from college in Iowa. After progressing though a series of jobs in New York and Washington, he was named chief national bank examiner in 1986. Mr. Stolte was appointed to his current job two years later.

Despite the complaints about tough audits, bankers and fellow regulators speak highly of Mr. Stolte. Those who have worked with him praise his intelligence and common sense, crediting him with handling a pressure-packed job gracefully.

"He's really a pro," said Larry D. Kurmel, executive director of the California Bankers Association. "We are able to go in there and be candid, and he's receptive."

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