WASHINGTON - Bankers rarely love their regulators, but then Andrew C. Hove Jr. is not your typical government official.
The banker from tiny Minden, Neb., leaves town today after serving 10 years, five months, and 24 days as vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. - the fifth-longest tenure in the agency's history. Mr. Hove, or "Skip" to anyone who's known him more than five minutes, won the admiration of the agency's staff and the applause of the nation's community bankers. "He epitomizes the ideal of public service - he is selfless, dedicated, conscientious, and fair-minded," said Ross Waldrop, an FDIC researcher. "The loyalty and affection he commands reflect the loyalty and affection he has shown toward the FDIC and its employees."
Jeffrey L. Gerhart, president of First National Bank of Newman Grove in Nebraska, said Mr. Hove's experience gave him a perspective and understanding other regulators lacked. "I don't think you can replace that by reading a report," he said. "When we spoke to him - he understood the language, he understood the situation, he knew the people. That's hard to substitute."
During his tenure Mr. Hove stepped in as acting chairman when the agency needed him - and it needed him three times.
His first turn at the helm lasted just over a week in October 1991, between L. William Seidman's exit and William Taylor's entrance. But the extremely popular Mr. Taylor died a year later. He was only 52, so his death was a huge shock. Mr. Hove began his second stint as acting chairman during the agency's darkest days, a make-or-break time for the industry and the agency.
The Bank Insurance Fund was insolvent, at least according to government accountants who had required the agency to set aside $7 billion for projected losses that never materialized. Huge numbers of banks had failed, and the fear was that many more would do so. But FDIC officials were confident that the industry had turned a corner.
Mr. Hove had the tough task of convincing the public that the banking industry had weathered the worst, that a repeat of the savings and loan crisis was not occurring, and that the insurance fund was sound. He held press conferences, testified before Congress - the works. By the time he turned the agency back to an appointed chairman, Ricki Helfer, in October 1994, the insurance fund had more than $20 billion of reserves.
"I'm most proud of that, but I can't take a lot of credit for it," Mr. Hove said in an interview last week. Instead, he credited the FDIC staff, bankers, and an economic turnaround.
(His third stint as acting chairman was from Ms. Helfer's departure in July 1997 to current chairman Donna Tanoue's arrival in May 1999.) "Unassuming" is an understatement when it comes to the modest midwesterner.
Mr. Hove didn't even want to explain what he will do next for fear of upstaging the University of Nebraska, which plans to announce the 66-year-old will teach in its business school.
Mr. Hove is more direct when asked what Washington should do for community banks.
"Have a moratorium on regulation - or repeal some," he said. "Community banks are just overregulated."
Anti-discrimination and Community Reinvestment Act rules top his list of what should be scaled back, with complicated capital regulations running third. "Bankers are up to their ears just trying to run their bank and serve their community," Mr. Hove said. "Fair lending, CRA, some of these things in a small community, I'm not sure they're necessary."
He also said he thinks capital standards should be simplified and that a straight capital-to-asset leverage ratio would be sufficient. "The capital standards we impose I don't think they need to be applied to small community banks."
As for reforming deposit insurance, Mr. Hove said he supports indexing the $100,000 coverage limit for inflation. "Politically, I think what's doable is probably to index it some way that is not going to double the coverage but increase it somewhat and then continue indexing from that point on."
The FDIC also needs to charge a premium on new deposits, he said. "We've had 800 banks chartered since we've had zero premiums. Effectively, they got insurance and never paid anything for it. They brought no dowry to the system."
The biggest culprit has been Merrill Lynch & Co., which has shifted nearly $50 billion into insured accounts in less than a year. One solution, Mr. Hove said, would be to tie a bank's premiums to its deposit level. If deposits rose, the bank would pay a premium. If they fell, the FDIC would rebate premiums.
But Mr. Hove said he will be watching the debate over deposit insurance reform from Lincoln, Neb.
His second term on the board ended in October, and he stayed until his successor, John Reich, was sworn in Jan. 16. In fact, Mr. Hove had planned to retire in 1998, and even sold his house here. But Ms. Tanoue persuaded him to stay, and he's been commuting from Nebraska since then.
Though glad to be going home to stay, Mr. Hove said it is tough to say goodbye. "It's hard to leave because I like the people here so much," he said. "I like the work, but it's a time when I need to move on. For a political appointee to last 10 years is unusual."
True, but then Mr. Hove is not your typical government official.