Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo. These institutions have "defrauded the American public," have "given all bankers a bad name," are "too big to manage," let alone regulate.
If this sounds like an Occupy Wall Street rallying cry or a Simon Johnson blog post circa 2009, think again. These are the pained sentiments of one of the banking industry's own, and they came across my desktop recently in an email from a reader.
Cass Young of Citizens State Bank in Hugoton, Kan., was dismayed by our annual ranking of the most powerful women in banking and finance, featured in our October issue. He objected to the idea of seeing any big-bank executive, male or female, being celebrated in this day and age, and he didn't pull any punches—toward the big-bank crowd or toward me—in explaining his stance.
Before the initial sting of the criticism even wore off, I was intrigued by his email, and by the evidence that three years after the Wall Street fiasco of 2008, community bankers—or at least some of them—remain very, very angry with big banks.
The community bankers that have survived the recession obviously are not on the unemployment line, and it can safely be assumed that they are not part of the poverty class that has been swallowing up people from all around this country at a pace that should alarm us all. They don't necessarily carry the same laundry list of political demands that the jobless protesters, frustrated union leaders, ideological academics and activist students brought with them to the Occupy Wall Street protests. But community bankers—not all of whom were saints during the go-go years, I realize—suffered a big hit to the reputation of their chosen profession as a result of the financial crisis, and many feel they are being disproportionately penalized now by the regulatory consequences of Wall Street's excesses.
Cass Young doesn't have a movement to promote or a candidate to sell or a book to publicize. He's chairman of a $125 million-asset institution that has 37 employees and almost a century of history, and he's ticked off at big banks. His email opened the door to an engaging dialogue that I value deeply and hope will continue, and I suspect he'll see lots to appreciate in this month's issue.
Briefings this month covers a wide portion of the landscape for community bankers, starting with an examination of the trends driving a wave of conversions from national charters to state charters—and what that implies about the future of the dual banking system. You'll also read about a bank that has made itself a fixture in urban neighborhoods, and about a community banker in the nation's capital who sees much to criticize in his own backyard.
Our cover story comes straight from the corn belt, where ag-banking is either the next big bubble or a booming business on the cusp of even greater opportunity. And with my apologies to Mr. Young, the Circuit this month recaps our Oct. 6 event celebrating the women on our Most Powerful list.
Say what you will about any of the firms our honorees represent. These women inspire us with their achievements; they are role models in a sector where the glass ceiling is thickly paned. And JPMorgan Chase's Heidi Miller, accepting a lifetime achievement award, was particularly poignant in urging her peers to more clearly recognize their responsibilities as corporate citizens.
There's more inside that I hope you enjoy, and I welcome your feedback.