For his 50th birthday last year, Richard Mount's wife took him skydiving. Little surprise. He'd already developed a taste for bungee jumping headfirst into northern California gorges.

This week, Mr. Mount, president of California's Saratoga National Bank, will take a leap of a different sort. He'll become the 60th president of the Independent Bankers Association of America, placing himself front and center in what promises to be a critical year for banking in general and community banking in particular.

With a new Republican-controlled Congress, Mr. Mount said the swelling prospect for regulatory and structural reform of the banking and financial industries is a mixed blessing.

In addition, the fight for interstate branching has now moved to the states. The IBAA is taking an active role where state independent bank groups are pushing to opt out of the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Act.

For Mr. Mount, becoming the IBAA chieftain is just the latest chapter in a long campaign to reduce regulatory burdens on small banks and make sure independent bankers voice concerns about their competitiveness and necessity to state and federal lawmakers.

The tall, tanned banker helped found the IBAA's California chapter in 1985. He sits on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and of the national advisory council of the Federal National Mortgage Association.

He was the founding president of Saratoga National in 1982. The $82 million-asset bank serves high net-worth individuals and middle-market companies in wealthy Santa Clara County. With a 12.6% core capital ratio, the bank earned 0.84% on its assets in the first three quarters of 1994.

Mr. Mount, the first IBAA president from California, spoke with the American Banker about what the year will bring for the organization.

Q.: What will you be spending your time on in 1995?

MOUNT: It's almost across the board. With the change in parties in Congress, this year we have the biggest opportunity ever to make significant change.

I believe that this year will see legislation that could determine whether we have a banking industry like we have today here in the United States or one like they have in Europe (where a few huge banks, with powers like those of investment banks, dominate the market).

There will probably be a move for the repeal of Glass-Steagal and the Bank Holding Company Act.

Q.: Will the IBAA support repealing those laws?

MOUNT: If Glass-Steagal is going to be changed, we'd like to see it changed in a step-by-step approach. You can't reverse a key aspect of the banking system overnight. Clearly, any change in Glass-Steagal is going to be for the benefit of the big banks, not the small banks. And I know that the majority of independent banks do not favor repeal of that law.

The Bank Holding Company Act, I think, is there for a very specific reason, and I would not support in any way repealing it.

Q.: What about CRA?

MOUNT: CRA is going to heat up big time. The Federal Home Loan Banks could see reform. Fair lending laws and Truth in Savings will likely be completely rethought. All those things we support.

Q.: Will the IBAA's perennial effort to tax and regulate credit unions the same as commercial banks and thrifts bear fruit this year?

MOUNT: I think there's a good chance they could come under CRA in some way. In terms of the taxation issue, we're very hopeful and very forceful in our belief that they should be taxed. But I realistically don't think that is going to happen this year. Sometime, but not now.

Q.: The nascent opt-out movement in the states is gaining some steam. Even though California will likely opt in to the interstate branching law, do you support independent bank efforts in other states to opt out of the law?

MOUNT: Yes. Being an community bank in California isn't anything like being a community bank in Missouri. In California, we have every major bank in the country and a host of international banks. You can't compare the two. In some states there real concerns about interstate branching's impact on the economy and the industry.

Q.: Do you feel it's important that the IBAA support, even monetarily, opt-out lobbying in individual states?

MOUNT: Absolutely. Large banks have a huge advantage in terms of lobbying power. It's clearly part of our mission.

Q.: Relatively speaking, California is not a hotbed of independent bank activism. Why did you become so involved?

MOUNT: I had been in banking for 20 years before I became an IBAA member. I came to realize after several years of being a chief executive that I simply didn't like the way regulation of the industry was headed. The only way I saw to change it was to organize.

I feel very strongly that bankers have to get more involved than they are right now if things are going to change.

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