WASHINGTON - Bank examiners may be among the biggest winner if regulators adopt the Community Reinvestment Act reform proposal they put out Monday for public comment.
Examiners would come out ahead because the rules would shift much of the burden of complying with the regulation from financial institutions to the agencies a step that would preserve and could even increase the number of examiner jobs.
That's good news to George King, a spokesman for the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents FDIC examiners.
"Just on the surface, without examining the regulation, it portends well for the need for examiner jobs, which are dwindling out there," Mr. King said.
Federal Reserve Governor Lawrence Lindsey said at a meeting this week that the central bank alone will have to boost the number of consumer and community affairs examiners by 25%.
That would require an increase of about 50 examiners, giving the Fed a total of 258 employees to review CRA compliance at the 1,000 state banks the Fed reviews.
Also, Mr. Lindsey said the bank would need to add researchers and statisticians in other divisions in order to create some of the geographic models that the rules envision.
The board needs to be prepared for these increased expenditures at budget time, Mr. Lindsey warned.
Still, most of the agencies are overstaffed. The FDIC, for example, has offered some examiners a buyout, and the Office of Thrift Supervision has announced an overall 16% reduction in personnel.
Banking advocates expressed mixed feelings about the need for more examiners. Brian P. Smith of Savings and Community Bankers of America said his group's top concern is that the agencies have enough properly trained examiners to do the job consistently. "Will that require an awful lot more people?" he asked. "Maybe not."
Much of the new work for examiners would come in the small-bank arena, where the rules would give regulators most of the responsibility for compiling and computing compliance data.
Examiners would also receive added responsibilities overall. For example, the proposal would require regulators to assess a local market's credit needs. (For a more complete list of what the regulation would do, see related article on page 3.)
John W. Stone, the FDIC's executive director of supervision and resolution, said the agency is in the midst of boosting its CRA examination staff from 250 to 360.
The agency is now overstaffed, but the extra CRA work from the proposed rule would absorb some of that excess, he said.
"The combined examination staff more than likely ... will be slightly lower," Mr. Stone said. "It will be a reallocation" of current resources to meet the demands of new CRA exams, he said.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also will shift around resources, spokeswoman Leonora S. Cross said.
The agency is not likely to be hiring, Ms. Cross said. Instead, she said, it expects a change in federal law to free enough people to handle the additional CRA work. The change would let the agency review some banks once every 18 months, rather than once every year.
Ms. Cross said the impact of additional CRA examiners on the agency's efforts to cut exam prices is not yet known.
Timothy Burniston, the deputy assistant director for policy at the Office of Thrift Supervision, said the agency will wait until after it learns how long a typical CRA exam will take before determining staffing levels.