CBA Job Cuts

It was not an easy week for the Consumer Bankers Association.

The Washington trade association shed as many as seven jobs in a significant restructuring because of the economic downturn.

"The current economic conditions facing all trade associations — especially those in the financial services sector — have dictated unprecedented organizational restructuring," Richard Hunt, the CBA's president, said in a statement. "CBA is not immune to this situation."

The downsizing included positions lost in the association's conferences, administration, government relations and membership sections. Those leaving the group included Marcia Z. Sullivan, who was the CBA's director of government relations. Last week, the CBA said that it would be utilizing some outside government relations help to lobby on key issues, including from the firm Elmendorf Strategies LLC.

The job cuts come during an already difficult year for the trade group. In January, the CBA's longtime president, Joe Belew, died suddenly.

In an interview, Hunt, who took over in May, was adamant that the trade group has no plan to fold or merge with another association.

"The restructuring that we just went through improves our situation going forward for another 90 years," he said.

Spreading Blame

With the Office of Thrift Supervision threatened with extinction, its interim chief mounted an impassioned defense last week.

But rather than tout OTS successes, John Bowman, the acting director, chose to deflect blame onto other regulators. He said that most failures since early 2008 were overseen by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and that more national banks would have failed if the government had not rushed in to save them.

He conceded that the largest failure in history was OTS-regulated Washington Mutual but said that was only "because anything larger has been deemed 'too big to fail.' " Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday, he said, "The OTS did not regulate the largest banks that failed; the OTS regulated the largest banks that were allowed to fail."

Responding to accusations from lawmakers that Countrywide Financial's collapse was accelerated by its switch to an OTS charter, Bowman said that criticism could be levied against other agencies. He pointed to Citigroup Inc.'s problems, and noted that the company shifted assets from OTS oversight to supervision by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

"One of the facts that seems to be sort of lost in a lot of the discussion is that three months or four months before Countrywide came to the OTS, Citibank took two historic thrift charters totaling approximately $232 billion in assets to the national bank charter," he said.

But senators, who are considering an administration proposal to merge the OTS into the OCC, did not appear swayed.

"Mr. Bowman, in all due respect, almost everyone regards the OTS as having failed in its responsibilities," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said. "And you're saying: 'Keep the OTS.' "

Out the Door

A Seattle credit union is encouraging members to flaunt their decisions to leave the banking industry.

In another example of punchy marketing in the spat between banks and credit unions, the promotion lets customers share stories about why they left a commercial bank to join Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union. Each member whose story is posted on Seattle Metropolitan's Web site gets a free T-shirt in the mail saying "Intentionally Left Bank."

"The public obviously feels very strongly about what is going on in the banking industry at their expense," Jill Vicente, the credit union's chief marketing officer, said in a press release Thursday.

Several of the stories cite customer service and high fees as reasons behind a member's switch. "With all of the huge banks in America, it is hard to find one that is personable and still professional," said one member, identified as "Annie V."

Bentsen to SIFMA

Former Rep. Kenneth Bentsen, D-Texas, is stepping down as the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association's president to become the vice president of public policy and advocacy at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. He plans to start the job shortly after Labor Day.

Ralph Petta, ELFA's vice president for research and industry services, will lead the group on an interim basis.

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