WASHINGTON - Community bankers will not support changes to deposit insurance unless the coverage limit is doubled to $200,000 per account, according to industry representatives.
As the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. prepares to present its range of reform alternatives next Monday, community bankers are pouring on the pressure. "It isn't a threat, just a reality," said Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president for the Independent Community Bankers of America. "Increased coverage represents the third leg of the chair of reform. If you take that away, the chair will topple."
The two other legs of that chair are pricing the insurance and deciding the nature and the appropriate size of the funds.
Though more than 90% of banks do not pay for insurance coverage, the FDIC is expected to propose that more, or possibly all, banks pay higher premiums. Without an accompanying increase in coverage, the result could be a stalemate.
"The FDIC is looking to increase premiums, and there is a lot of political opposition to raising the coverage limit. Without that, the ICBA could dig in their heels, and put a stop to any reform," said Bert Ely, an independent consultant in Alexandria, Va.
Community bankers hope that raising the coverage limit will significantly increase deposits. "Bankers are squeezed tight with high loan rates and low liquidity," said Dale Bradley, chairman and president of $25 million-asset Citizens State Bank in Miltonvale, Kan. "A lot of banks are starving for cash."
Three powerful opponents of doubling insurance coverage have emerged, however. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm blasted the idea back in March, the same day FDIC Chairman Donna Tanoue raised the possibility in a speech. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers argued at a Senate hearing last month that the 1980 coverage increase was partly responsible for the savings and loan crisis.
"Such an increase would be ill-advised and would represent a serious public policy error that could increase systemic risk by eroding market discipline," Mr. Summers testified.
After that, many analysts put the chances of increasing coverage at zero.
"The FDIC must be aware that with the opposition of Sen. Gramm, Mr. Summers, and Mr. Greenspan, raising the coverage limit isn't in the cards," said Robert Litan, director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution.
But L. William Seidman, former FDIC chairman and a CNBC commentator, said the debate is far from over. The November elections will bring many changes, including a new President and new congressional leaders. "I don't believe the issue is dead," he said. "We don't know what the next President is going to say. I think the issue has merit and will be re-argued."
Mr. Guenther's counterparts at rival trade groups are playing the question more conservatively.
"Raising the coverage limit is still the most important issue," said Edward L. Yingling, lead lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. "Bankers want to see a study on how much their deposits might increase, and want to know what kind of political price they would pay."
Robert Schmermund, a spokesman for America's Community Bankers, agreed. "Philosophically, we support raising the coverage limit, but the $64,000 question is, 'What is it going to cost us?' ''