WASHINGTON - Lenders are bracing for the worst as they await rules implementing the financial reform law's requirement that Community Reinvestment Act deals be publicly disclosed.
Citibank vice president Mary Cosgrove told banking regulators Friday that the industry is full of rumors about how much of a burden the rules will impose.
"How bad is this going to get?" she asked during a question-and-answer session at a National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders conference here.
The rules would implement the so-called "sunshine amendment" to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. It requires disclosure of payments banks make to community groups to satisfy the CRA, and applies to loans or grants made after Nov. 12. For agreements made after May 12 of this year, the bank and the community group must annually report on how the proceeds are spent. The goal is to prevent activists from secretly demanding payoffs in exchange for not protesting bank mergers on CRA grounds.
Industry officials cited numerous concerns, including the kinds of agreements covered by the law, the level of detail needed for expense reports, and the extent of a bank's responsibility for the accuracy of community group reports.
Responses by regulators, who say they are still struggling with these questions, only fanned bankers' worries. "It has been a daunting task to come up with a consensus regulation," said Glenn E. Loney, the Federal Reserve Board's deputy director of consumer and community affairs.
The four regulatory agencies hope to propose a joint rule in March. However, Mr. Loney said, an outside chance remains that they could deadlock and end up offering separate proposals.
Bankers complained that regulators on Friday were bracing them for the possibility of a sweeping rule, while the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Banking committees had assured them a day earlier that the law was not meant to be a heavy burden. "We are questioning if the message is getting from the Hill to you folks," said Michael Schwartz, a vice president at Bank of New York.
Regulators face conflicting pressures, though. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm said earlier this month that his sunshine provision is clear and warned the agencies not to water it down.
But Mr. Loney said, "despite what some folks seem to think, there are some knotty issues."
Yet the law is more broadly worded than many in the industry would like, he said. "I am not sure that there is some way in a regulation that you can say exclude the good guys" and target only abusers of the system, he said.