Community bankers in Washington State breathed a sigh of relief when John L. Bley was named the state's new banking and thrift regulator.

They were worried they would end up with a bureaucrat. But Mr. Bley is one of them -- a banker -- and they like most of his ideas.

"I think he's a friend to the industry, but at the same time not a patsy to the industry," said Donald Rhodes, president of Heritage Bank in Olympia. "John feels the bankers know how to run banks."

New Agency

Washington Gov. Mike Lowry appointed Mr. Bley last month as director of the newly created Department of Financial Institutions, which is responsible for regulation of all state-chartered financial institutions and service companies.

The new department not only oversees banks, but savings and loans, check cashers, mortgage brokers, mutual fund consumer loan companies, and a host of other businesses.

With all this on his plate, Mr. Bley said his main task will be to sniff out problem institutions as soon as possible while avoiding overregulation of those with good track records.

"I'm an early interventionist," Mr. Bley said. But he also said he won't "micromanage the decision process of well-managed institutions." He says the regulatory structure should be formalized so bankers understand what's expected of them.

Assertive Reputation

Douglas Pringle, president of West One Bank, Eastern Washington, Yakima, said Mr. Bley is known in banking circles an assertive regulator who attacks problems before they get too big.

"He is not a person who lives in denial," Mr. Pringle said.

That's not to say every banker agrees with all of Mr. Bley's ideas. For one, he backs interstate branching, which rankles bankers like John W. Alexander, Jr., president of Security State Bank in Centralia.

"It's a philosophical difference," Mr. Alexander.

Request for Input

Mr. Bley sent a letter on Oct. 19 to all state-chartered commercial banks asking for their input on regulatory issues, focusing on interstate branching.

In the letter, Mr. Bley said it is his goal to maintain a formal regulatory framework while allowing flexibility for institutions to operate efficiently and maintain competitiveness.

To help accomplish that, he asked for industry members to identify statutory language that they felt restricted their business activities. He specifically called for discussion on interstate branching regulations.

"No issue today is more relevant or in need of discussion, and least understood than interstate branching regulations," Mr. Bley said in the letter.

He said he solicited bankers' ideas because "like any organization, we want to put our resources to the best use."

Mr. Bley graduated from Pacific Lutheran University and from Willamette University College of Law and Graduate School of Management.

In 1988 he became deputy supervisor for Washington's department of banking. He rose up the ranks becoming supervisor of banking in September 1991.

Mr. Bley says he feels comfortable in the position.

"We've hit the ground running," he said.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.