Everywhere I go, bankers are wondering how the industry will fare under the Clinton administration. Change is disconcerting, particularly after 12 years of the other party in the White House.
On the negative side, from the viewpoint of many bankers, Democratic administrations tend to have more of a populist flavor than Republican ones. Thus, there is likely to be more emphasis on community reinvestment and consumer legislation and regulation.
Moreover, Democratic administrations tend to place greater emphasis on full employment and less on price stability. The result could be higher interest rates, something the banking industry clearly does not need any time soon.
But there are reasons for optimism. During my tenure at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from 1978 to 1985, I witnessed a Democratic President with a Democratic-controlled Congress, a Republican President with a Republican-controlled Senate and a conservative House, and a Republican President with a Democratic controlled Congress.
Impetus for Growth
Without question, the government functions best when the White House and Congress are controlled by the same party, which is reason No. 1 for optimism in 1993.
My second reason for being encouraged about banking's political prospects in 1993 is that Bill Clinton has clearly made the domestic economy his top priority. Economic growth will be anemic unless and until the banking industry begins to lend more freely to consumers and small businesses.
Banks cannot open the vaults to any significant degree until the political and regulatory climates make it more acceptable to do so. I believe Bill Clinton understands these things.
I have been a close observer the politics of banking for almost 25 years. On the major issues, banking politics tends to be nonpartisan, which is my third reason for optimism.
The Carter administration made banking deregulation one of its priorities. It began the process of repealing deposit interest rate controls, and promoted the cause of interstate banking.
In the National Interest
The traditional Democratic constituencies - home builders, Realtors, and S&Ls, for example - were opposed to repeal of interest rate controls. Consumer organizations were opposed to interstate banking.
On both issues, the proponents for change tended to be Republican constituencies. Yet, the Carter administration pushed ahead on both fronts because it believed it was in the national interest to do so.
The Carter administration had a number of exceptional appointees assigned to the financial sector - people like Bob Carswell and Roger Altman at the Treasury, Paul Volcker at the Fed, John Heimann at the Comptroller's Office, Larry Connell at the National Credit Union Administration, and Orin Kramer at the White House. They were determined to move things in the right direction, and they did.
Which leads to my fourth reason for optimism. I know the people who have been advising Bill Clinton on banking issues. They include people like Altman and Kramer from the Carter administration days. Bill Bowen, a former Arkansas banker who has been active in the American Bankers Association for years, is Gov. Clinton's chief of staff.
Bill Brandon, ABA president, is an Arkansas banker who has worked closely with Gov. Clinton. Ed Yingling, head of government relations for the ABA, has long been involved in the Democratic Leadership Council, which was the springboard for the Clinton candidacy.
A Progressive View
The list could go on. What all of these people have in common is that they are knowledgeable about the banking industry and have a progressive view of the financial world. They know that significant reforms must be made if the U.S. banking industry is to remain viable in the marketplace.
The appointments President-elect Clinton makes to the financial agencies will be the best indication of whether my optimism is well-founded or misplaced.
He needs to appoint strong, experienced people with proven administrative ability who can lead the agencies and represent them well on Capitol Hill and in the media. If he does, the next four years could produce some real forward momentum for the banking industry.
Mr. Isaac, a former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is managing director and chief executive of the Secura Group, a Washington-based financial services consulting firm.