WASHINGTON - With fewer national banks to examine, the Comptroller of the Currency is scaling back its staff and losing some of its most experienced supervisors.
"The fallout of this rightsizing is that many career examiners are choosing not to relocate, so the agency loses a lot of good people because they do not wish to move," said Bob Bench, managing partner of regulatory advisory services at Price Waterhouse.
Fourteen senior examiners faced "involuntary actions" - that is, they either had to relocate or leave the agency. Seven have agreed to move, but the others have decided to leave, according to the agency. And a number of those who refuse to move are getting jobs at the Federal Reserve, Mr. Bench said.
"The Fed is increasing its hiring of examiners in response to the expectation of examining the growing activities of holding companies and foreign institutions," said Mr. Bench, who worked at the Comptroller's office for 22 years.
The Comptroller's office this month is wrapping up a year of so-called rightsizing, reducing its examiner force by more than 300.
That puts the number of national bank examiners at 2,486 - less than one examiner for each institution the agency regulates. With the wave of mergers and interstate acquisitions, agency officials felt it was time to pare the work force.
"As we came into '95, we concluded that we had 130 more bank examiners in the aggregate than called for," said Judith A. Walter, senior deputy comptroller for administration. Ninety of those examiners took incentives to resign, and 40 took early retirement offers. The other 170 left as part of the agency's normal turnover, she said.
There are simply fewer national banks to examine.
Through June, 75 banks gave up their national charters. Thirty of those converted to state charters, while 45 ended up with state charters after mergers, according to the latest figures available from the Comptroller's office.
A large part of the agency's efforts involved shifting surplus examiners to regions where there were shortages.
Cities with a high cost of living in the agency's western and northeastern districts are the hardest to attract examiners to, Ms. Walter said. Both Los Angeles and New York suffered examiner shortages at the beginning of this year.
"There are positions in the agency for most of those examiners who are in locales that are overstaffed," said Delora N. Jee, deputy comptroller of the OCC's western district. "We're trying to encourage our examiners to move to where the work really is, but some people just can't move."
A number have agreed to downgrade to lower-ranking jobs within the agency rather than move, Ms. Jee said.
Losing experienced examiners can be bad news for national banks, said Karen Thomas, director of regulatory affairs at the Independent Bankers Association of America.
"Bankers frequently complain that examination teams that come to their banks are just too green," Ms. Thomas said.