ICBA Now on iTunes
Some may view the financial crisis as a pile of lemons, but the Independent Community Bankers of America appears determined to make lemonade by using it to gain leverage over the largest banks.
A Web site the trade group launched last week recalls prewar caricatures of greedy big bankers. Mycommunitymybank.org urges consumers to get behind their local banks, offering video testimonials of satisfied community bank customers along with a map of community banks in the U.S. It uses the images and language of old-fashioned populist histrionics to make its case against large institutions.
"Too Big to Fail Hurts Us All," says a headline on a page devoted to describing the evils of big banks.
"When giant corporations are propped up by taxpayer dollars, this preferential treatment hurts us all through lack of competition, fewer services, higher prices and slower economic growth," the page said.
Accompanying the text is a painted illustration — something Norman Rockwell might have conceived — of a fleshy, frowning banker pouring money through his fingers, a top hat shading his brow.
But the group is also looking to the future, promoting an iPhone application designed to direct consumers to their local bank. Joining the likes of Frogger, Space Invaders: Infinity Gene and Rolando, the app directs consumers to registered ICBA members, and works on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
"This new tool will give consumers an easy way to find a community bank in their area so they can take advantage of the superior customer service, trustworthy expertise and quality financial service products that only a community bank can offer," said Chris Lorence, senior vice president of marketing at the group.
The application is free and provides directions to local community banks. It also provides links to bank Web sites, addresses, contact directions, and GPS navigation to the bank.
The State of the DIF
The debate over whether the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has a healthy-enough stash of resources is getting intense.
Even though the net worth of the Deposit Insurance Fund is only $10.4 billion, the agency and several observers have stressed that the FDIC has an additional $32 billion in loss reserves at the ready to pay for failures, and that the fund is ultimately supported by the Treasury Department. That, many say, should give depositors peace of mind.
But increased recognition of the FDIC's reserve accounting did not prevent more commentary last week saying that the agency is "going broke."
A year after Bloomberg News published a story suggesting the risk of a broke FDIC, Jonathan Weil, a columnist for the news service, reiterated that point, "The FDIC has been mismanaged, and its credibility as a regulator is in tatters," Weil said.
That drew a pointed response from Christopher Whalen, managing director of Lord, Whalen LLC's Institutional Risk Analytics. In an open letter e-mailed to Bloomberg staff and other media outlets on Thursday, he accused the wire of getting the story wrong, twice.
"Either you and your editors just don't get it or Bloomberg is intentionally trying to whip up public fear regarding the FDIC to sell media," Whalen wrote. "Either way, I am going to start doing the Mexican hat dance on anyone at Bloomberg who touches this story until you boys & girls get [it] right."
If the FDIC's reputation is in "tatters," it's worth noting that no one on Capitol Hill appears to have noticed. At a House Financial Services Committee hearing last week, FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair was generally praised for her handling of the crisis. Chairman Barney Frank even reiterated that Bair should borrow from the Treasury Department before charging banks another special assessment.
Olson's New Gig
Mark Olson, a former governor at the Federal Reserve Board and chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, has joined Corporate Risk Advisors as co-chairman.
Olson served at the Fed from 2001 to 2006, before moving to the PCAOB. He resigned from the oversight board July 31.
"There is no more respected player in the financial services business than Mark Olson," said Jeremiah S. Buckley, the president of Corporate Risk Advisors. "Mark can provide best-in-class guidance to companies as they navigate the changing regulatory and business environment."