PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Robb Evans, installed last week as president of the California Bankers Association, wants to bring his frankness and independence to bear on some sticky issues facing the California banking industry this year.
Mr. Evans is only the second nonbanker elected by the trade group in its 104-year history.
"I can be strong in my positions and not have to worry about regulatory retaliation," said the 54-year-old San Francisco businessman. "That's one reason why a lot of members thought I would be a good president."
Of course, that's not the only reason Mr. Evans became president of the California Bankers. He's had a 20-year career in and out of the industry and has a track record that includes two start-ups and one turnaround.
But it does call up the economic and regulatory problems California banks have had in the past four years. And, though those problems are largely over, community bankers' disquiet about what they say was regulatory overkill during the recent recession was a frequent topic of discussion at the California Bankers' annual meeting here.
The California Bankers Association membership is dominated by banks with less than $400 million in assets.
Mr. Evans said one of the things he'll work on during his one-year term is trying to rebuild a regulatory environment in which "bankers can trust the examiner again."
"The loss of a constructive proactive federal regulator is a real pity," he said. "The (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) has lost its sense of community with the banks."
Mr. Evans has been a banker in the past, most recently as chairman of San Francisco's First Indo-American Bank (he's currently vice chairman). He's founded two banks in his 20-year career and worked as an executive for Bank of America in Indonesia.
Currently, however, his job is trustee in charge of liquidating the assets the United States seized from the failed Bank of Credit and Commerce International, better known as BCCI. He's been working in that capacity since 1992 and will probably liquidate the last of the assets within three years.
He is in the process of selling about $500 million of U.S. assets surrendered to the government as part of BCCI's 1992 guilty plea to fraud charges. (BCCI's biggest American asset, First American Bank of Washington, D.C., was sold separately).
Mr. Evans wants to pursue the usual list of hot topics in Washington, where much of the group's policy focus is directed. These include Community Reinvestment Act and Glass-Steagall reform, regulatory relief, and rationalizing the regulatory system.
But beyond these issues, California Bankers wants to discuss a bank- involved resolution to the disparity in the insurance funds for banks and thrifts. California is a hotbed of controversy on the topic because most of its large thrifts are already laying out plans to convert to banks to avoid paying the higher premium to the thrift fund.
Mr. Evans wants banks to help resolve the insurance fund disparity - including a merging of the funds after a four-year common examination cycle - as part of a broader effort at reshaping financial institution regulation.
"We have to step up and find a solution to the problem or one will be imposed on us," he said. "But when we enter that discussion, we have to use it as a catalyst to talk about a lot of things that don't make sense and put a burden on the industry."
He added that any attempt to bring the banks to bear some burden for a thrift fund bailout should also include all institutions that benefit from a federal guarantee, most notably credit unions.
The California Bankers' position puts it at odds with the American Bankers Association, which has vehemently opposed any solution to the insurance fund disparity that would burden the banking industry.
Maurice Hannigan, chief of the California Highway Patrol, said cops need bankers. Not for credit but to help catch the bad guys.
Mr. Hannigan, as head of the California Peace Officers Association, is spearheading an effort to involve more banks in the fight against crime. He hopes eventually to establish an information clearinghouse on financial crime that both bankers and law enforcement could tap to fight everything from bank robbery to check fraud.
"Cops don't like to think they need anybody else, that they have all the answers," he said before addressing the California Bankers Association meeting. "Well, we know there are some answers from the business community."