If bank regulators had a lonely hearts club, the District of Columbia's banking superintendent, Fe Morales Marks, would easily qualify as president.
Mrs. Marks, 37, doesn't have a single bank to regulate - just a trust company that belongs to Signet Banking Corp. of Richmond.
All 21 banks operating in Washington, including two with district charters that predate her six-year-old agency, are regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Curreny. Two other banks that were issued D.C. charters about two years ago haven't opened yet, and a third has withdrawn its application.
Mrs. Marks said she is working to revise hundreds of pages of legislation in hopes of attracting new banks to the nation's capital. She believes it is underbanked in certain areas, and thinks new institutions rooted in the city will help revive the local economy.
"I'm known for being aggressive," said Mrs. Marks, a business and banking lawyer who was appointed last February by Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. But it won't be easy finding new banks, given the slow economy and difficulty of raising capital.
Mrs. Marks is the second Washington banking superintendent, following Edward D. Irons, who was criticized by bankers for going too slow on the legislative rewrite. The post was created by 1985 legislation that also opened the district to interstate banking. Before 1985, all charters were issued by federal regulators.
The banking law needs rewriting because it "is not very clear what the chartering process is or how the whole regulatory relationship will work," Mrs. Marks said. For example, the law does not differentiate a bank from a thrift, or a thrift from a savings bank.
Powers of Office Unclear
Neither does it clearly set forth the enforcement and supervisory powers of her office.
Complicating matters, a bank seeking a charter most obtain approval from the city council as well as from Mrs. Marks.
Kathleen Collins, a banking lawyer with Pillsbury Madison & Sutro in Washington, said that Mrs. Marks is right to be rewriting the law, but that in the current economy "there couldn't be a worse time to try to encourage investors to try out the district charter."
In the meantime, she has focused her enforcement powers on some illegal bank operations in the city.
Last year, Mrs. Marks' office closed a company for operating an illegal credit union. She declined to name it because it remains in the check-cashing business.
Probe of Shady Bank Network
The agency is also investigating four institutions illegally set up by a mysterious Lake Tahoe businessman who goes by three different names and heads the Dominion of Melchidezek, an "ecclesiastical sovereignty" that allegedly owns islands in the Pacific.
"We keep our eyes and ears open for those kinds of things," she said.
Mrs. Marks, who is of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, was raised in the South Bronx. Her mother, Justina, worked in a costume jewelry factory, and her father left home when she was a child.
After completing high school in three years, Mrs. Marks got a political science degree from Barnard College in 1976. She graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1979.
Her husband, Kenneth, also a lawyer, encouraged her to go into business law instead of constitutional litigation. After Columbia she joined a Wall Street firm, and eventually moved to Washington to practice banking law.
"As a Puerto Rican woman, I was supposed to be on welfare and a single mother," she said. "I wanted to show that I was capable, that I could do things other people could do."