Small Banks Will Benefit From Big-Bank Breakup
There is no simple solution to "too big to fail," a complicated problem born of a series of policy missteps that will take years to unwind. The sooner everyone accepts that reality, the sooner we can tackle the necessary items to make sound public policy.
The CEOs who lead our largest banks ought to be spending their time trying to get ahead of the next problem and righting their corporate cultures. If they don't, it may be only a matter of time before Congress breaks them up, argues Editor-at-Large Barbara A. Rehm
As a community banker, I do not share concerns about the impact addressing the threat of "too big to fail" financial firms once and for all will have on our industry. In fact, downsizing and restructuring these systemically dangerous institutions is essential to removing their government-subsidized competitive advantages and restoring America's free market economic system. The fact is this: Community bankers should be more worried about what will happen to our industry if we don't act.
Right now there are two entirely different banking industries and two separate levels of risk. When you look at all the facts it's easy to see that 99.4% of the industry — I'm talking about community banks here — are clearly getting the raw end of the deal simply because they aren't able to operate in a truly free market system.
Excessive concentration in the banking industry and the "too big to fail" doctrine has led directly to systemic risks that jeopardize the safety and soundness of financial institutions across the nation. When incentivized risk-taking comes back to bite "too big to fail" firms, the federal government steps in with a taxpayer-funded rescue while community banks and Main Street communities suffer the economic consequences. And, when a community bank is deemed to be no longer a concern due to the economic wreckage, regulators intervene far differently than they do on Wall Street.
The "too big to fail" advantage extends beyond taxpayer backstops when Wall Street has gotten in over its head. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data show that while megabanks have the lowest credit quality in the banking industry, they also have the lowest cost of funding. Meanwhile, smaller community banks have both the best credit quality and the highest cost of funds. Obviously, the heavy hand of "too big to fail" is overpowering the invisible hand of free-market forces. Ensuring that no financial institution enjoys the benefit of being deemed "too big to fail" will help ensure that community banks operate on a level, market-based playing field.
Finally, truly addressing the "too big to fail" threat will help free community banks from the oppressive regulatory environment that we face every day. Much of the overwhelming paperwork burdens and regulatory red tape we endure is due to the reckless practices and misconduct of the megabanks and their tens of thousands of shadow banking subsidiaries. While these large financial firms can afford the legal teams necessary to meet the regulatory obligations they have spawned, community banks are left to redirect resources that could be used to help their communities prosper.
For community bankers, the answer to the "too big to fail" crisis is not more regulation. Innumerable regulations have already been enacted to deal with the problem. These regulations fall disproportionately hard on community banks, yet the megabanks continue to grow and our nation's financial resources continue to consolidate. Only by actually downsizing and restructuring "too big to fail" institutions— by limiting the systemic risk created by the sheer size and interconnectedness of the institutions that put our financial system and economy at risk — can we eliminate unfair competitive advantages, unleash our free markets and allow community banks to compete in the financial landscape.
Maintaining the status quo would only result in community banks' continued subjugation by the megabanks that enjoy privileged status in Washington. For the community bankers like me who want our industry to survive and thrive, we must stand together as one to break up the "too big to fail" stranglehold and ensure a future for Main Street community banking and the communities we are privileged to serve.
Bill Loving is president and CEO of Pendleton Community Bank in Franklin, W.Va., and chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America.