Bankers aren’t holding their breath for sweeping regulatory reform.
While nearly 60% of bankers believe Washington will make changes in the next two years, nearly three-fourths of them expect only moderate improvements, a survey by Promontory Interfinancial Network concluded. The firm polled nearly 200 bankers in the fourth quarter.
Only 20% of the respondents projected significant improvement in the regulatory landscape.
Industry optimism, which has been relatively high since the presidential election, received a boost last month when President Trump and several key advisers met with a number of community bankers at the White House. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with 16 bankers on Wednesday to comply with a February executive order directing the agency to review existing regulation.
“The survey is consistent with what’s transpiring in Washington,” said Paul Merski, executive vice president for congressional relations for the Independent Community Bankers of America. Merski said he believes the process could take between a year and a half and two years.
“A lot of the work on regulatory reform and … relief has been teed up over the years, particularly legislative changes,” Merski said. “You’re not really starting from scratch on a lot of the ideas and initiatives.”
Additionally, key posts at all of the primary regulatory agencies are scheduled to change in coming years.
“Once those new appointees are put into place … they will have a different approach to the implementation of regulation,” Merski said.
Some bankers, including Greg Salmen at Stephenson National Bank in Marinette, Wis., expect legislators to start proposing changes by the end of this year. Still, the Trump administration has made it clear that it has higher priorities over the near term.
“I’d say the tax reform would be on the top of that list,” said Salmen, who oversees investment management and trust services at the $480 million-asset bank. “Regulatory reform might be a little more slow to come.”
To that end, the ICBA has been pushing its members to lobby lawmakers to make regulatory reform a bigger priority.
“Before us stands the opportunity to pass significant, substantial regulatory relief,” Cam Fine, the ICBA’s chief executive, said during remarks at the association’s annual convention in March. “We have the chance to truly overhaul our regulatory system and ensure tiered and proportional community bank regulations.”
While legislative efforts to reform health care fell flat, Merski said he doesn’t expect debate over regulatory reform to be as contentious.
“I don’t think this has to be lumped in with health care,” Salmen added.
Promontory’s survey also looked at bankers’ outlooks for business conditions.
More than 60% of the survey’s participants said they anticipate moderate to significant improvement in economic conditions over the next 12 months. Roughly 65% of the respondents said they expect a moderate to significant increase in loan demand over the next year.