WASHINGTON - The regulatory relief steamroller forged ahead Tuesday, as bankers and legislators extolled the benefits of Rep. Doug Bereuter's proposed Financial Institutions Regulatory Relief Act.
The Nebraska Republican's bid to roll back compliance requirements for the Truth-in-Lending Act, the Truth-in-Savings Act, the Community Reinvestment Act, and other laws met with criticism from regulators last week.
But at a House Banking subcommittee hearing Tuesday, representatives of the regulated - banks, thrifts, and credit unions - applauded Rep. Bereuter. And Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., chairman of the subcommittee on financial institutions and consumer credit, said she has put the bill on a fast track and is planning a vote by her panel on June 15.
"Our ability to serve our customers is undermined when the costs of regulatory compliance dramatically exceed the benefits," said H. Jay Sarles, vice chairman of Fleet Financial Group and chairman of the Consumer Bankers Association. "This legislation will go a long way toward correcting this problem."
Said Minnesota Rep. Bruce Vento, the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, "I guess I'm not surprised that bankers want less regulation."
Rep. Vento raised concerns about Rep. Bereuter's plans to reduce the frequency of on-site examinations for healthy banks with less than $250 million of assets from every 18 months to every two years.
Also, the American Land Title Association argued against Rep. Bereuter's proposal to transfer rulemaking authority for the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act to the Federal Reserve Board, and real estate and home builders groups urged the subcommittee to give the latest Community Reinvestment Act regulations time to work before trying to scale them back.
But most of the suggestions offered by bankers and other subcommittee members had to do with broadening Bereuter's efforts, not reining them in.
Rep. Bereuter, for example, has proposed exempting rural banks with less than $100 million of assets from the requirements of the Community Reinvestment Act. The bankers said that exemption should be extended to small urban and suburban banks as well.
Richard Mount, president of the Independendent Bankers Association of America and of $85 million-asset Saratoga (Calif.) National Bank, complained that CRA exams now demand more of his suburban institution's time and resources than safety and soundness exams. "There's something wrong with (this) system," he said.
Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., the subcommittee's vice chairman, floated the idea of changing CRA much more drastically. He asked the bankers if they would object to doing away with written CRA evaluations, banning regulators from considering CRA ratings in deciding whether to grant banks' requests to open new branches or make other expansions, and banning the Justice Department from investigating a bank's lending practices without first getting a referral from a bank regulatory agency.
The answer from the bankers: "No."