Three Chief Economists Did Research for Agency

Call it coincidence, kismet, or just plain weird, but the chief economists at three major banking trade groups used to work in the research department at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Jim Chessen at the American Bankers Association, David Lereah at the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, and Bob Davis at the Savings and Community Banks Association were all financial economists at the FDIC. "There are former FDIC research people everywhere," Mr. Davis says.

Take Marty Regalia, another ex-FDIC economist. He was Mr. Davis's predecessor at the community bankers' group and is now chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Policy plus Economics

In fact, the FDIC's current research director, Roger Watson, can rattle off a list of prominent - even infamous - alums. From Paul Horvitz, who as a professor at the University of Houston is one of the industry's big thinkers, to Bill Gibson, who is serving time in a Texas prison for plane ticket fraud.

The FDIC is a good training ground for trade association work because it blends policymaking with economics.

"The whole orientation of the FDIC's research department is economics with policymaking, and I think that is a very good combination for the kind of work we do for trade associations," Mr. Chessen says.

Mr. Lereah adds, "the best thing we learned there at the FDIC is how to write memos. You learn to write concisely and get to the point."

Mr. Chessen, 40, and Mr. Lereah, 40, overlapped at the FDIC, working there during the mid-1980s. Mr. Davis, 44, was at the agency in the late 1970s.

When Mr. Davis joined the Savings and Community Bankers this month, Mr. Chessen and Mr. Lereah decided to welcome him to the world of trade associations by taking him to lunch.

"I think it struck us as somewhat remarkable," Mr. Chessen says of their common careers.

"We have lots of common friends and experiences," Mr. Davis says.

Putting in a Good Word

From the FDIC Mr. Lereah went to work in Richmond for Sovran Bank. While there, he got a call from then-ABA chief economist Rob Dugger, who was looking for a second-in-command. Mr. Lereah recommended Mr. Chessen, who was still at the FDIC.

Mr. Davis also joined a bank, moving to Chicago with Harris Bank. After five years, he returned to Washington, working briefly for the Joint Economic Committee before becoming a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. He was consulting in New York when the SCBA job came up.

The FDIC gives the economists something in common. But it's because they all face the same issues at their respective trade groups that they plan to continue lunching together.

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