WASHINGTON - Small banks should not expect any major changes in the frequency of their compliance exams even though the Community Reinvestment Act exam schedule is being lengthened, according to federal regulators.
To ease the regulatory burden, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act extended the CRA exam cycle for banks with less than $250 million of assets. Those that received "satisfactory" ratings on their last exam will be reexamined once every four years, and those that rated "outstanding" marks will be due for CRA reexamination once every five years.
However, the new financial reform law did not say when regulators should conduct the other two-thirds of a typical compliance exam. Besides CRA, compliance exams cover an array of consumer protections such as when credit is made available, how data is protected, and whether lenders are illegally discriminating.
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan raised the issue in a recent speech.
"The change in the interval between CRA examinations, for some, may engender new approaches to the nature and frequency of compliance examinations, and we have been talking with the other agencies about how they are dealing with this issue," Mr. Greenspan said. "We are working now to deal with the logistical issues. One of those logistical issues involves how best to continue to meet the mandates of the compliance portion of our examinations."
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Office of Thrift Supervision are the first regulators to issue compliance exam game plans. "Every other exam will be just like the old exams with a CRA component," said Stephen Cross, director of the FDIC's division of compliance and consumer affairs. "We will conduct a compliance exam for everything but CRA between the two-to three-year window."
The OTS will follow a similar schedule. "Compliance exams will go forward as they always have been - every two years," said Richard Riese, the director of compliance policy at OTS.
"The new CRA exam schedule won't alter [banks'] burden one way or the other. They will just need to keep a little bigger shoebox in which they've collected their good work," Mr. Riese said. The only institutions that would experience any difficulty, he said, are ones "that allow themselves to become lax between exams."
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has not decided on the frequency of compliance exams, spokeswoman Janis Smith said, but it is leaning toward a schedule similar to the FDIC's and OTS'. "To the extent possible we will coordinate scheduling of non-CRA compliance exams with CRA exams, and continue to conduct non-CRA compliance exams roughly every two to three years," Ms. Smith said.
The Fed is "still formulating its plan," said spokeswoman Rose Pianalto, who declined to name a target date for a decision.
Robert Rowe, regulatory counsel for the Independent Community Bankers of America, said small banks favor the longer exam cycle for CRA but are glad regular compliance exams will continue to be conducted every two to three years.
"They don't want to wait too long between compliance exams," he said. "They like the spot check. It's kind of like a physical."