Former Rep. Jim Leach has always been a man of the world. But no one can accuse him of forgetting home.
Speculation grew this week that Leach, a former chairman of the House Banking Committee and Foreign Service diplomat before he entered Congress, was high on the administration´s list to be the China ambassador. But speaking on a panel at a regulatory reform symposium yesterday, Leach was much more focused on Iowa, which he represented for 30 years. His first duty was correcting the moderator, who had mistakenly said Leach hailed from Ohio.
Leach then repeatedly reminded the audience of his roots, identifying the Hawkeye State as a paragon for bank regulation. Some at the symposium - sponsored by Boston University, the Bretton Woods Committee, and Deloitte LLP - had cited Canada´s successes in largely avoiding the recent turmoil. But Leach said the U.S. had a roadmap within its own borders. "When you use reference to Canada, frankly if one were to look at the Iowa banking system, which is American, I think you´ll find your model," he said.
He later added that the federal regulatory system would benefit from more "right-brainers" - accountants and other professionals strong in math to crunch the numbers in economic policy - in addition to D.C.´s abundance of lawyers. And in case conferees wondered which school had the nation´s strongest accounting program, Leach enlightened them: the University of Northern Iowa, which consistently ranks highest in graduates that pass the CPA exam.
"I believe good banking regulation is in direct proportion to the balance between the number of Harvard Law graduates and UNI CPAs" in the government, he said. "I raise this because there is a dearth of CPAs in this town. I cannot imagine a UNI CPA walking into Bernie Madoff´s office and not saying, `I´d like to follow the numbers.´"
His last Hawkeye reference came as panelists discussed the growing popularity of straightforward forms of capital like tangible equity. The concept is nothing new where he comes from, Leach said. "Let me come back to Iowa, just for a second. There is no such thing as capital in an Iowa bank that isn´t capital," he said.