The Internet can reduce the cost and time it takes to comply with new and existing regulations, according to Richard C. Insley, vice president and compliance officer for Signet Bank.
"The Internet is essential," Mr. Insley said Monday at the American Bankers Association's annual compliance conference. "There is so much useful information that you just cannot afford not to get."
During a demonstration, Mr. Insley pulled up the most recent copy of the Federal Register, explored legal opinions issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, discovered with which countries banks cannot do business, and found a Department of Housing and Urban Development site that provides census tract maps for Community Reinvestment Act purposes.
"We can download anything you see here and print anything you see here, and we didn't spend a dime," he said.
The Internet also makes it much easier to find critical information, he said. Bankers can search the last three year's worth of the Federal Register electronically, negating the need for indexes and bound copies. Also, compliance officers can check the Internet daily to find out what rules are in that morning's Federal Register, rather than having to wait as long as two weeks for the paper copy to arrive in the mail, he said.
Other services also let bankers check the latest Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Department of Veterans' Affairs mortgage underwriting rules, he added.
The Internet also can help with current rules, he said. The home page for Habitat for Humanity lists scores of ways banks can earn CRA credit by providing economic development assistance.
"If you are a CRA officer, I'd encourage you to spend a day on that site," he said. "You will learn new ideas."
The computer network also can keep banks out of trouble. Several sites, including one devoted solely to compliance officers, alert bankers about which violations examiners seem to be particularly interested in.
Compliance officers had mixed reactions to Mr. Insley's presentation. Most appeared to embrace the Internet. "We are in the information business, and having all these resources at our fingertips is beneficial," said David A. Kaczmarek, assistant vice president at KeyCorp Management Co. in Cleveland.
But others were worried that the Internet would allow hackers to break into the bank's computers. "I'm not convinced we've got to go to the Internet," said Donald C. Ricker, manager of corporate compliance at Seafirst Bank, Seattle. "Our bank is very cautious because of security."
These security problems are manageable, Mr. Insley said in an interview. Banks can use special software and computers that are not linked to the rest of the bank to stop hackers, he said.
Mr. Insley said compliance officers at his Richmond, Va.-based bank use the Internet daily to stay ahead of events. Senior managers readily agreed to provide access once they realized how inexpensive it was, he added.
Despite the abundance of information, Mr. Insley said few compliance officers use the Internet. A poll he conducted of the 110 bankers in his session found that fewer than a dozen use the Internet at work.
The results aren't surprising because many managers see the Internet as an expensive toy, he said. They are wrong, he said. Service with an Internet provider can cost as little at $15 per month. That is less than the price for a subscription to the Federal Register, he said.