CHICAGO - The new Community Reinvestment Act exam procedures will be short and sweet, government officials said. No volumes of procedures to comply with, just some questions to answer.
"It's not going to be a thick document," said Theresa Stark, a program analyst with the Office of Thrift Supervision. "It's a good, but potentially quick, exam. We've got five criteria to cover and if those are answered satisfactorily, there won't be much more to ask."
At America's Community Bankers' National Compliance Conference in Chicago this week, Ms. Stark said the five criteria are:
* Loan-to-deposit ratio.
* Geographic distribution of lending.
* Distribution among types of borrowers.
* Proportion of loans inside and outside the bank's community.
* Response to comments from the community.
Examiners will determine a bank's CRA rating by matching this information to the community's needs, which regulators will determine with or without input from the bank, Ms. Stark said.
"This is, in theory, not substantially different from what examiners have been or should have been doing all along," said Bobbie Jean Norris, fair-lending section chief in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s division of compliance and consumer affairs. "This is common sense, but the difference now is that it's being incorporated specifically into the exam procedures.
"We're no longer leaving it up to the examiner when they need to get that information," she told the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders Washington forum last week.
Among the information Ms. Norris said regulators, depending on the bank's size, would be expected to gather geographic data about a bank's community; household, family, and individual incomes by census tracts; an institution's business strategy; the types of products the bank offers; and anything else that shows the community's needs.
The information will be gleaned from government data bases, census information, and various other sources.
Ms. Stark said banks may provide information or debate the government's numbers if they choose. However, to reduce the burden on banks, they are not required to provide the information.
The agencies, however, will provide software that helps organize the data to banks that decide to gather it.
CRA exam training began last month in Dallas at an inter-agency session, which also included community group and banker panel discussions. Additional sessions will be held in November and December in San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston.
Ms. Norris said the first training session was attended by 230 examiners from all the agencies and involved 30 hours of lectures, case studies, and panels. More than 1,000 compliance examiners are expected to participate in the five sessions.
Bankers who got a glimpse of the Dallas session said they felt examiners frequently do not know enough about an institution's community to make an accurate examination of a bank's lending process.
"I'll be the first to agree that it's hard to do," said Betty Flores, senior vice president of Laredo (Tex.) National Bank. "It'd be simpler if the examiners were more localized, or if my examiner was at least from Texas."
Jeanine Catalano, senior manager with KPMG Peat Marwick's regulatory advisory practice in San Francisco, said most examiners do live in the region of the banks they evaluate. Sometimes the challenge of scheduling forces a different situation, she said, but generally examiners live in the area of the bank they examine.
Malloy Harris, a national bank examiner at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said arming examiners with extra knowledge of the community will be crucial in spotting the lending trends that affect a bank's rating.
"What examiners are going to be looking for are conspicuous gaps in lending patterns," Mr. Harris said. "They will be trying to find out why so many fewer loans being made in one area than in another one, for example."
Still, Timothy Burniston, assistant director of regulatory compliance at the Office of Thrift Supervision, said examiners will maintain a certain amount of subjectivity, beyond the number-crunching, to account for anomalous situations.
But above all, he said, training needs to be uniform to be fair.
"We have to have consistency among agencies, among regional offices," Mr. Burniston said."We need to have agencies throughout the country treating a similar situation the same way."