WASHINGTON A single word compliance sums up much of what bankers have to look forward to in 2001.
Regulators spent most of the past year writing rules to implement the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act; in 2001 they will focus on making sure banks adhere to them.
Topping the list are the privacy rules that take effect July 1, but bankers are preparing now to tell customers how information on them is used and to provide an opportunity to block, or opt out of, any data-sharing with third parties. Compliance will require tens of millions of customer mailings outlining privacy practices, and a refitting of computer systems to eliminate those who opt out of data-sharing arrangements.
Running a close second in the area of compliance burden is the so-called Community Reinvestment Act Sunshine rule. Effective April 1, it requires banks to disclose any agreements with community groups that relate to issues affecting an institutions CRA rating. The rule also requires community groups to report how they spend money received from banks, and obligates banks to assist them in making the annual report.
In addition to the known quantities of privacy and CRA Sunshine, bankers need to brace for compliance with rules that have not been finalized yet.
As early as next week, for example, the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department are expected to release rules governing merchant banking, which financial holding company affiliates can engage in under the new law. An interim rule was released March 17, along with a proposal for setting capital requirements for merchant banking investments. The capital proposal, which was widely criticized as being too strict, is expected to be revamped and resubmitted for public comment.
In addition to U.S. regulatory changes, international capital rules will shift next year. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, which released its plan for reforming capital rules in June 1999, is expected to issue an updated version in mid-January. After an abbreviated comment period, committee members said, a final version will be issued in the second half of the year.
The new capital standards will give banks three options for setting capital, depending on the sophistication of their internal systems. The simplest, an expansion of current practice, will base the amount of capital held against a particular loan on the type of borrower.
In a separate effort that many large banks fear will lead to increased government oversight, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. will continue to push for deposit insurance reform in 2001. The agency is expected to use its 84-page options paper, released in August, as the basis for reform recommendations.
The paper covered a wide range of possibilities, including a new risk-based pricing system for premiums, a mutual model for managing the reserve funds, and indexing the coverage level, which under some proposals would effectively double it to $200,000 per account. While small banks generally favor a coverage increase, many large ones have voiced concern that more coverage, which means more federal money at risk, will mean a corresponding increase in bank regulation.
Bankers know, in general, what new rules they will have to adjust to, but some questions remain about who will be in charge of enforcing them. President-elect George W. Bush will have the opportunity to appoint or replace a number of top bank regulators, including the heads of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
The Fed, though it will remain under the chairmanship of Alan Greenspan, may morph into a more Republican-leaning panel under the new president. President-elect Bush will have the opportunity to fill two seats that are currently empty on the seven-person board, and must decide whether or not to reappoint vice chairman Roger W. Ferguson Jr. to another term.
The change of administration even raises questions about whether some of the new rules will survive. Many were issued in proposed or final form in a burst of activity by regulators in the final weeks of the year. Some criticized the barrage of rules as an attempt to act on controversial issues before George W. Bush takes office on Jan. 20, and a spokesman for the Bush transition team indicated that the president-elect may share that suspicion.
They have been busy beavers in the administration with these last-minute regulations, the spokesman said Friday. The Bush transition team, he said, has assigned to each federal agency policy coordination groups that are carefully reviewing each and every regulation issued in the waning days of the Clinton administration ... for possible action after Jan. 20.
Michele Heller and Rob Blackwell contributed to this article.