Bradley E. Rock, the incoming chairman of the American Bankers Association, says he thinks he has come up with a convincing argument for Congress to give banks some regulatory relief: onerous regulations are causing more banks to sell themselves, leaving fewer to serve consumers and creating more opportunities for unscrupulous — and unregulated — companies to fill the void.
He said one example of this is the mortgage finance companies that put millions of homebuyers into exotic mortgage products, which led to the meltdown in the subprime mortgage market.
"I think government has become the driving force for consolidation in the industry, and that's wrong," said Mr. Rock, the chairman, president, and chief executive of the $1 billion-asset Smithtown Bancorp in Hauppauge, N.Y.
Mr. Rock, 55, says he looks forward to having his say in front of lawmakers as head of the ABA. He was to take the gavel today at the trade group's annual convention in San Diego, succeeding Earl D. McVicker, the chairman and CEO of the $288 million-asset Central Financial Corp. in Hutchinson, Kan.
Mr. Rock is no stranger to Capitol Hill. He has testified a number of times before the House and Senate finance committees as a member of the ABA's Government Relations Council, which he chaired in 2004 and 2005.
One of his pet regulatory peeves is the requirement that banks file currency transaction reports after accepting large cash deposits, even though regulators in 1995 began to require the filing of suspicious activity reports to help the government combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
"They didn't go back and eliminate the old reg, even though they found a better reg to do it," he said. "The cumulative burden" of the duplicative requirements on top of all the other compliance regulations "is crushing many community banks and forcing them to sell."
Albert "Kell" Kelly, the president and CEO of the $1 billion-asset SpiritBank in Tulsa, and a member of the ABA's board of directors, said Mr. Rock's passionate oratories aren't confined to congressional hearing rooms.
"Brad has been one of the most sought-out speakers on behalf of the ABA," Mr. Kelly said. "His speeches are inspirational and motivating, because he has the ability to relate to every community banker in the country."
Mr. Rock grew up in Hauppauge, and in high school became an All-American football player. He played football at Boston College and the University of Connecticut, where he graduated magna cum laude before receiving a law degree from Cornell University.
He went to the mat for bankers right out of law school. The day after he was admitted to the New York Bar in 1979, he tried a case that he had been working on with other attorneys at his New York law firm.
His client ultimately won the case, and the precedent-setting decision clarified how creditors could serve judgment notices to bank customers, under the Uniform Commercial Code.
In 1990, Mr. Rock switched careers and became president of Smithtown Bank in his hometown. He said he always knew he would be a bank attorney or a banker, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who worked at the former Hanover Trust Co.
Almost immediately, Mr. Rock got involved in bankers groups on the state and national levels.
"There's just an awful lot that goes on in government that has a huge impact on businesses, and upon the communities they serve," he said. "It's very important for bankers to work together to make sure" lawmakers and regulators "go in the right direction."
In 2002 and 2003 he was president of the Independent Bankers Association of New York State, and he has been the chairman of the New York Bankers Association's Long Island division.
Michael P. Smith, the president and CEO of the New York Bankers, said Mr. Rock has helped make the state's banking department more competitive with national charters and has been in the forefront in getting the state to streamline its banking regulations.
"Whether he's in New York or on the national stage, Brad comes totally prepared, and he engages the entire group," Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Rock said the merger of the ABA and America's Community Bankers, slated to close in December, should increase bankers' influence on Capitol Hill.
"This merger will allow banks to speak with one voice, making them more powerful than ever before," he said. It is crucial that the thrift charter be preserved to give institutions more choice in structuring their business models, he said.
Though Mr. Rock is quite serious when railing against regulations he dislikes, he often shows his lighter side. A prime example is his "lucky duck" award at Smithtown Bank.
Whenever he hears about a member of his staff doing something beyond the call of duty, he stops what he is doing, takes out a gadget that imitates a duck, gathers a group of employees, and proceeds toward the employee's desk making quacking noises.
After explaining to everyone present ? including customers ? what the employee did to deserve the duck treatment, he gives that person a $100 bill, ending the celebration.
The ceremony is good for morale, "and it's also good to have a lot of fun at work," he said.