WASHINGTON - In his seven years on the Federal Reserve Board, John P. LaWare has seen it all - a banking crisis, a dramatic recovery, and a regulatory upheaval.
"It's just been a spectacular experience," says the former chairman of Shawmut National Corp. But his tenure is drawing to a close. Mr. LaWare plans to retire as a governor on April 30.
In the view of banking industry officials, Mr. LaWare has been a consistent friend. They credit him with bringing a banker's perspective to a regulatory agency run by economists.
Mr. LaWare, 67, has clearly enjoyed that role.
"I'm a checkpoint," he said in a recent interview. "Somebody to talk things over with." For instance, he has been serving as a key adviser to Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan on Glass-Steagall issues.
The departing governor said President Clinton needs to keep the banker's perspective as the Fed prepares to confront a number of significant regulatory issues.
Topping that list is the thrift insurance fund debate. The Fed could get stuck with the problem if too many institutions start failing, he said.
The Fed also must deal with reforming the Glass-Steagall Act, especially if Congress acts on any of the proposals to loosen the restrictions between banking and other businesses.
Mr. LaWare said the high point of his tenure was the past two years, when the banking industry recovered from realty woes and other problems in the early 1990s.
"I remember back in 1992 there were wild predictions that there was still $100 billion in losses," he said. Instead, the industry became better capitalized and held fewer problem assets than in any time in recent history, he said.
The low point of his Fed experience, he said, came in 1991, when Congress passed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act.
Mr. LaWare remembers putting in countless hours hammering out regulatory reforms only to see them replaced with what he considered unnecessary safety and soundness rules.
"We had worked very hard with Treasury to assist them in coming up with some substantive revisions and lifting some of the regulatory burden," Mr. LaWare said. "And then, Congress just turned around and did its own thing, and so much of it was nonsense."
Yet, he hasn't grown tired of banking. If fact, Mr. LaWare hopes to work part-time on Community Reinvestment Act issues during the coming years.
"I wouldn't mind being involved in something like that," Mr. LaWare said. "There is a lot left to be done, and I think there is a lot to build on."
He hasn't started looking for work, he said, adding that it would be inappropriate for a sitting governor to solicit job offers. But he did say that he has no plans to follow former Fed Governor Wayne Angell to Wall Street. Mr. Angell, who left the Fed last year, is now chief economist at Bear, Stearns & Co.
Before he clears out, Mr. LaWare will tend to at least one more important issue. On April 19 he will vote on CRA reform.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," he said.
Mr. LaWare said he is concerned that changes to the CRA could expand its scope.
"It is a perfect example of social engineering using private capital to achieve public ends," he said of the CRA. "I don't think that is what Sen. (William) Proxmire intended." The former Democratic senator from Wisconsin was the CRA's primary architect.
The Fed governor said he'll miss the board, his colleagues, and some of the perks of his office. Audiences no longer will hang on every word when he gives a speech, he noted.
But, he said he knew he had to leave before his term expired in 2002. "There comes a time when you just have to think about the passage of time, and how much you've got left."