Q&A C. Kendric Fergeson, vice chairman of the American Bankers Association's Community Bankers Council for 1992-93, recently returned from the Russian Banking Conference 1992, held in Moscow from Nov. 5 to 13.
Jeffrey Bounds, a reporter for the Medill News Service, asked Mr. Fergeson, who is chairman of the National Bank of Commerce, Altus, Okla., about the opportunities for American bankers in Russia and the council's goals for the coming year.
Jeff Bounds: Tell us about the conference.
Ken Fergeson: We'd have speakers on personnel problems, training, marketing. [The Russians] main interest was in getting us to invest in their banks. They have approximately 1,700 banks in Russia, all brand new. This is the first time they've ever had private banks in Russia. They've always had a central bank.
JB: What opportunities are there for American bankers in Russia?
KF: Mostly the tremendous population there. [But] they have a lot of inflation there, so there's not a lot of lending. All [bank] loans are for 30 or 60 days. And there's not a lot of laws or history of doing business, and they're struggling with that. The banks get their licenses, and they're pretty much on their own.
JB: Do you think American banks will invest in Russia?
KF: I don't see a lot of that happening. But a lot of large banks developed correspondent relationships with Russian banks, so they're getting a flow of funds.
JB: Let's look at the situation facing U.S. banks. What is the community bank wish list for the upcoming Congress?
KF: We'd like to sunset some of our regulations and laws as to banking. We have regulations stacked on new regulations, and it gets to be a nightmare. We're hoping [President-elect] Clinton will get the economy going, and we're going to focus on that.
JB: What regulations do you consider the most burdensome?
KF: I'd say the Community Re-investment Act tops the list. Truth-in-Savings comes in second.
JB: What are the council's lobbying plans for the next session of Congress?
KC: We will be pushing to eliminate red tape. We will be trying to have more direct relationships with senators and congressmen. We want to get them into banks and see for themselves the amount of regulation we have to comply with.
JB: Surveys by the Federal Reserve have indicated racial bias by banks in home mortgage lending. What are your views on this finding?
KC: I don't know a banker who's biased or racially prejudiced. But I saw an education film by the ABA that showed how we can be biased unknowingly, such as by giving white customers more information than minority customers. So it dawned on me that we can be biased without knowing it. But I think the ABA's film will help prevent that, and I think bankers will do a better job.