ORLANDO — A chastened and diminished group of bankers heard some tough talk Wednesday from two financial services executives.
John A. Allison 4th, the chairman and chief executive officer at BB&T Corp., delivered an hourlong analysis of the industry's missteps during a speech at the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery Conference.
He excoriated the "bunch of geniuses" who concocted subprime mortgages and the complex web of derivatives that backed them up, blaming them for ignoring reality and engaging in wishful thinking.
"At some point they realized that train had run off the rails, but they evaded it," Mr. Allison said. The current economic crisis is the result of "failures of leadership in the industry and failures of leadership in government."
Arkadi Kuhlmann, the chief executive and president of ING Bank FSB, followed Mr. Allison to the podium and preached a return to conservative banking methods.
"The mortgage business the way we do it in the U.S. is just not right," he said. "You can't guarantee your health for 30 years. You can't guarantee your marriage for 30 years," and a 30-year mortgage does not serve the needs of most borrowers.
The 30-year model guarantees a mismatch against banks' sources of funding, such as certificates of deposit, Mr. Kuhlmann said. "I've never seen a 30-year CD."
His savings bank, a Wilmington, Del., unit of ING Group NV of Amsterdam that does business as ING Direct, has grown to 27th in U.S. banking assets since its founding in 2000. Mr. Kuhlmann said it offers only one mortgage product, a five-year, fixed-rate balloon loan with a 30-year amortization schedule — a model that buffers ING from rate fluctuations and fund flows.
The unit is adding about $1 billion a month to its $35 billion mortgage portfolio, all financed from its deposits and maintained on its own books, he said.
Mr. Kuhlmann said the strategy is working in part because it is unlike that of most other banks.
"If you do everything like everybody else, could you expect to get results that are any different?" he asked. "There are 9,600 banks in this country," and all of them seem to want to serve the wealthy. "Who cares about the 270 million Americans on Main Street?"
The number of people attending the conference this year fell roughly 25% from last year, to about 1,700 bankers, as well as many nonbankers.
In the corridors, attendees talked about the collapse of several major banking companies and the precipitous decline in the stock market. But Mark Starr, the CEO of Florida Federal Credit Union in Gainesville, said the environment at the conference was better than a recent mortgage one he attended, where protesters picketed outside.
Florida's economy has been in recession for 18 months, Mr. Starr said, though his home market, bolstered by a big university and teaching hospital, has done better than most of the state.
The credit crunch has eliminated some competitors in markets such as indirect auto lending, while raising funding costs for those who remain, he said. "I've got car dealers beating on my doors, where they never did before."