Did the ABA Snub Clarke, Greenspan?

This year, for the first time in memory, two of the industry's three top regulators were not invited to address the American Bankers Association annual convention.

ABA officials say they instituted a rotation when they chose to invite only L. William Seidman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to speak at the San Francisco meeting last week.

Wore Out Their Welcome?

But among bankers, there is a widespread suspicion that Mr. Seidman's peers -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Comptroller of the Currency Robert L. Clarke -- were both snubbed because of unpopular speeches they gave at last year's convention in Orlando.

Mr. Clarke incensed the trade group's leadership by warning that the industry had lost its credibility. He had earlier rejected pleas by the bankers to tone down the speech.

A day before Mr. Clarke spoke, Mr. Greenspan bored the gathering with a dry speech on clearing and settlement of payments.

Is Three a Crowd?

Senior ABA officials scoff at the notion they could be so small-minded as to retaliate in such a way. The trade group, they say, simply has decided to give each of them a shot at one of three major meetings each year.

Having all three at one convention is a case of "too much of the regulators," said Edward L. Yingling, the ABA's executive director for government relations. He acknowledged there were some misgivings about the 1990 appearances but insisted they did not affect the ABA's planning.

But bankers with close ties to the ABA's leadership say last year's performances had a lot to do with the decision to invite only Mr. Seidman this year.

"We got a lot of negative feedback from our members," said one banker.

As it turned out, Mr. Seidman, in his last speech to the ABA before his retirement won hearty applause on a number of policy points, and described bankers as the best-looking, most moralistic people he knew.

Frank Maguire, senior deputy comptroller for legislative and public affairs, made it clear he was not happy with the ABA's decision not to invite his boss.

Bankers Scolded

He called it "unfortunate, given the fact that [Mr. Clarke] is the supervisor of national banks, which hold the bulk of the banking assets in this country."

This year would have been a particularly appropriate time for the industry to hear from Mr. Clarke, Mr. Maguire said, because of the continuing controversy over his agency's role in bringing on the "credit crunch."

Told that Mr. Yingling had said three regulators were too many for one convention, Mr. Maguire said he would "have to question the purpose of the convention."

Mr. Greenspan was at the World Bank-International Monetary Fund meeting in Thailand last week and could not be reached for a comment.

Some Criticism Voiced

One banker with Washington ties criticized the ABA's decision not to feature all three regulators.

"They are the regulators and it's good for bank CEOs to hear them," said the banker, who asked not to be identified. "If they're boring or insulting, it doesn't matter."

"It goes without saying," Mr. Yingling said, that Mr. Clarke and Mr. Greenspan were welcome to attend the convention and appear on "meet the regulator" panels.

Mr. Clarke "doesn't |attend' conventions," said Mr. Maguire. "He goes to participate."

Mr. Seidman used part of his time on the podium to take a light-hearted shot at one of his more virulent critics, Rep. Frank Annunzio, D-Ill.

The outgoing FDIC chairman said he had changed the name of his Irish Wolfhound "Proxmire" to "Annunzio." The joke bombed, and required an explanation.

Mr. Seidman said that when he first got the dog in 1985, he named it Proxmire after Sen. William Proxmire, the Senate Banking Committee chairman who opposed Mr. Seidman's nomination. "I wanted to take the dog for a walk and yell, heel, Proxmire, heel!" he said.

Six years later, Sen. Proxmire has retired and Mr. Seidman is on the receiving end of constant criticism from Rep. Annunzio. The FDIC chief has come under fire for changing his loss estimates for the Bank Insurance Fund. The FDIC has also been accused spending money on extravagances, such as art work for the Seidman Center, a training and hotel facility built in Northern Virginia, last year.

Polite Laughter

"The other night I stuck my head out the back door and I shouted, |Annunzio, Annunzio!' All the lights in the neighborhood went out. You could hear doors being slammed. And my poor dog just rolled over and played dead."

The audience didn't get it. After a few moments of silence, a few bankers laughed politely.

When the comedic effort was related later to Curt Prins, an Annuzio aide in Washington, he said Mr. Seidman "is trying to get back at the one guy who has had enough guts to stand up to him. If Seidman indeed has a dog, he probably bought it at a pet shop and charged the FDIC."

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