​WASHINGTON — Finding relief from regulatory burden and ensuring fintech competitors face banklike rules should be the industry's top legislative priority this year, according to a new survey conducted by SourceMedia Research.

The survey, which included results from an online survey of more than 300 bankers in November and December, found that 43% of respondents named "reducing the compliance burden on small banks" as the No. 1 industry policymaking focus this year.

But bankers are also clearly beginning to feel the growing threat from fintech competitors, with 23% saying regulating them more like banks should be first on the policymaking agenda. Several trade groups have already begun pushing that issue, warning that marketplace lenders and other alternative financing regimes aren't subject to the same safety and soundness and consumer protection regulations.

By contrast, one of the industry's perennial priorities — subjecting credit unions to federal tax — was seen by only 16% as the industry's top priority, tied with seeking more guidance from regulators on how to stop banks from "derisking." Many bankers say they are severing relationships with clients because of fears they are too much of a compliance risk.

Industry observers said the results clearly show the immense burden faced by small and midsize institutions.

"It's a fair anxiety," said Lawrence Baxter, the head of the Global Financial Markets Center at Duke University. "I frankly don't know how small banks can cope with everything they have to comply with now. It is so complicated."

The emphasis on regulatory relief was born out in another survey question, where respondents were asked to rank priorities in terms of importance. Repeal or revision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act was the clear winner, with more than half of respondents saying it was at or near the top of their priorities, while an additional 20% said it was of medium importance.

Bankers seemed less concerned, however, with making structural changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. While survey respondents agreed that making changes to the CFPB — such as replacing its director with a five-member board — would make a difference, only 32% saw it as at or near their highest priority.

The survey also yielded results on how invested banks are in the presidential election, what they see as the greatest policymaking threat in 2016 and their predictions for whether and how steeply compliance costs will increase this year. It is part of a white paper published by American Banker and SourceMedia that also includes detailed dossiers on what each major presidential candidate has said on financial policy, including Wall Street reform, CFPB changes, tax reform and healthcare.

The survey results can be accessed here by American Banker's premium subscribers or purchased separately, while an interactive, comparable look at presidential candidate's views on policy matters can be found here.

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