After getting a personal pitch from Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, the Bankers Roundtable last week strengthened a half-hearted statement of support for financial services reform made just three days earlier.
"The Roundtable supports HR 10 as revised," according to a statement approved by the association's board at a meeting here Friday. "Significant improvements to the bill by the Senate Banking Committee merit full Senate approval of this measure in this Congress."
The turnaround came after Richard M. Kovacevich, the group's president and also chairman of Norwest Corp., and fellow bankers met with the Senate Banking Committee chairman Thursday.
"We had a good meeting," said Alfred M. Pollard, the group's senior director for legislative affairs, who added that Roundtable members were also encouraged by separate meetings with other senators last week.
The group said it would "strongly resist" any attempts to water down revisions of insurance measures or other improvements, but Mr. Pollard declined to say whether Sen. D'Amato gave any assurances that changes would not be made to the legislation before enactment.
The New York Republican's message was "'Let's take one step at a time,'" Mr. Pollard said.
The Senate killed Sen. D'Amato's plan to ban automated teller machine surcharges last week. The vote was a humbling 72 to 26.
Sen. D'Amato hopes his crusade for "the little people," as he described bank customers on Thursday, will help him in what is expected to be a bruising campaign against Rep. Charles E. Schumer. The longtime House Banking Committee member won the New York primary Sept. 15, defeating Geraldine A. Ferraro with 51% of the vote.
The D'Amato-Schumer race is already filled with television attack ads. A poll of 1,200 registered voters by the New York 1 cable TV news station gave Rep. Schumer a 46% to 41% advantage over Sen. D'Amato. However, the poll had a 3% margin of error.
"A lot of money will be spent on that race," one Hill source predicted Friday. "A lot of bank lobbyists will be invited to a lot of parties."
If Julie L. Williams ever decides to give up being a bank superviser, she could probably get elected to public office.
The acting comptroller of the currency gave what amounted to a stump speech Friday on her favorite subject: sloppy underwriting standards.
With each speech, Ms. Williams gets more blunt. By Friday, "loans with fundamental structural weaknesses" were simply "ugly loans."
Speaking to the Bankers Roundtable, Ms. Williams also got more graphic, detailing three examples of lousy lending.
In one, a national bank lent $20 million to a company with negative net worth that makes a single product for a specific industry in which there is already tough competition.
Another bank issued a line of revolving credit and a term loan worth nearly $500 million to a company with no working capital, negative net worth, and more than $50 million in operating losses last year. The bank required that interest be paid only during the first four years. And the rate? Libor plus 150 basis points, currently 7.2%.
"When we bring these ugly loans to the attention of the bankers responsible for them, they often protest that they're simply following the market," Ms. Williams said. "And we turn around and ask: following the market where and to what end? It is time-indeed, past time-to reject the herd mentality in lending. It's time to follow your own good judgment-not 'the other guy'-when it comes to sound underwriting and risk management."
Next month national bank examiners will begin to implement changes that Ms. Williams announced in July, including bringing instances of ugly loans to a bank's board of directors.