The new superintendent of banking and financial institutions for the District of Columbia is facing a dual challenge.
J. Anthony Romero 3d wants to encourage more large national banks to do business in the nation's capital and to improve banks' fulfillment of Community Reinvestment Act commitments they made in the late 1980s.
That may be easier said than done. In the last several years, most of the District's local banks have either folded or been swallowed up by regional banks. Meanwhile, no new banks have taken their place.
In fact, Mr. Romero's office is one of the nation's loneliest banking agencies, with no examiners and only two staffers besides the superintendent. Still, the 65-year-old Mr. Romero hopes to build the District into a major banking center.
"I want to promote a climate in which financial institutions want to and will organize to do business in the District," Mr. Romero said. "We are going to create the kind of climate that will make it easy for banks to come into the District of Columbia," he added.
Before he was even confirmed in office, Mr. Romero got started promoting new business for the District. Following rumors of a pending merger between NationsBank and BankAmerica last month, Mr. Romero wrote to the heads of both institutions, encouraging them to consider headquartering a merged institution in the District.
If the banks did merge, the result would be "the first truly national bank in the United States of America," Mr. Romero wrote in the letters.
The interstate branching law that will soon take effect could also help to bring more banks to the District, because it will allow banks to branch into D.C. without the need to merge or make acquisitions, Mr. Romero said. A banking and branching measure will be brought before the City Council on Wednesday.
On the CRA front, Mr. Romero said he intends to make sure banks fulfill lending commitments they made in the late 1980s.
In addition, Mr. Romero says he is particularly interested in seeing more banks invest in affordable mortgage products to help increase the number of housing opportunities in the District. He also believes that regulation of check cashing institutions is long overdue.
Mr. Romero has been superintendent since Oct. 11, but was acting superintendent for three months before that. From 1975 to 1994, he served on the District's Board of Equalization, holding the position of vice chairman for two of those years.
Mr. Romero graduated from the University of Morocco in 1953 with a BA degree in Business Administration and Economics. Since coming to the United States in 1958, he has worked as a real estate broker in the greater Washington area, spending the last 25 years in the banking industry.
"I understand both the needs of the consumer and the needs of the financial institutions, which you cannot ignore. Because of that, I'm in a place in the middle. I can really serve both sides," Mr. Romero said. "Banking has been in my heart all my life, and I enjoy what I'm doing."
Mr. Romero says his "humble" origins provide him an edge in serving the District, where he has made his home since arriving in this country.
"I'm an immigrant. I know what it is to need money. And I know what it is to start at the beginning," Mr. Romero said.
An easygoing demeanor helps him interact with people in the District. Also, he speaks five languages: Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, and "a little bit of English," Mr. Romero, a fluent English speaker, quipped.
Though not a native Washingtonian, he considers himself right at home here, both personally and professionally. "I'm a member of this community ... I understand the needs of the city."
Mr. Romero says his "humble" origins help him relate to residents of the District.