As someone relatively new to Washington, I still believe that common sense can prevail in this town. My faith in our nation's decision makers was reinforced by the news that federal regulators have begun a series of proposals to simplify government reporting requirements for community banks.
The reforms to the quarterly call report announced last week by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council follow intense advocacy by the Independent Community Bankers of America and the nation's community bankers. We have argued for a short-form call report for well-capitalized institutions. The proposal from the FFIEC demonstrates continued commitment to tiered regulation based on banks' risk and complexity. The proposal also shows that the banking agencies are listening to the community banks they regulate and understand the concerns of Main Street institutions.
The first round of the FFIEC's proposal would simplify community bank call reports by deleting certain data items and revising reporting thresholds. More important than these initial steps, however, is the council's vow to evaluate the creation of a streamlined quarterly call report for community banks and to continue its dialogue with the industry.
So far, that discourse has proven fruitful. The regulators' announcement comes almost a year to the day after ICBA leadership met with the FFIEC on the excessive call report burden. At the meeting, we delivered a petition with nearly 15,000 signatures representing almost 2,500 community banks urging relief.
As a former career community banker, I know firsthand that the need for call report reform is very real. A recent ICBA survey confirmed as much. Eighty-six percent of the nearly 700 survey respondents reported that the annual cost of preparing this report every 90 days has increased over the past 10 years. Banks under $500 million told us they spent on average 122 hours per year on the call report, while preparation time for banks greater than $500 million jumped to an average of 274 hours per year. One banker reflected on the issue in the survey:
"This process has gotten completely out of hand, and the only way to make meaningful change is to reduce the burden substantially to a very basic set of reports that correspond exactly to the core system categorizations that banks use to actually manage their bank from a business perspective. It has been proven time and again that all of these burdensome reporting requirements have added nothing meaningful to the industry, and have done nothing to prevent any financial crisis."
Regulators should be commended for recognizing the problem and considering solutions to streamline the call report to reduce an unnecessary burden. Our proposal would allow highly rated, well-capitalized community banks to file a short-form version of the report in the first and third quarters of the year, while filing the full report at mid-year and year-end.
This would provide sufficient safety and soundness monitoring information for regulators while significantly reducing the burden on local banks and freeing up valuable resources for local communities. According to ICBA's survey, 98% of respondents said a short-form call report would reduce their regulatory burden, and 72% said the reduction would be substantial.
A shorter, less burdensome and more sensible call report is not a cure-all for the excessive regulatory burdens plaguing community banks. But it is an important step in addressing overregulation and helping local economies prosper. ICBA and community bankers nationwide look forward to continuing the discussion with banking regulators, and to implementing real solutions to strengthen community banks and the local economies they serve.
Working together, common sense may just prevail after all.
Terry J. Jorde is senior executive vice president and chief of staff at the Independent Community Bankers of America.