The Changing Nature of Financial Regulation

Last Friday, right before I keynoted the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business’ Marketing & Finance SuperDay, I received an alert from the Wall Street Journal that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) will start issuing bank charters for fintech firms. This move doesn’t come as a surprise; indeed, there have been numerous on-the-record remarks about how and where the fintech sector can benefit smaller “legacy providers” in terms of innovation and scalability.

Until Friday, Thomas Curry, head of the OCC, had taken a firm stance toward FinTechs, making it clear that he would hold them to the standards and regulations written for incumbent financial services institutions. So as the OCC considers the benefits such firms might provide, I’m not surprised the agency will, for the first time, “start granting banking licenses to fintech firms, giving them greater freedom to operate across the country without seeking state-by-state permission or joining with brick-and-mortar banks.”

Now, FinTech is just one area of regulation that is a-changin’. As our Editor-in-Chief, Jack Milligan, recently wrote on BankDirector.com, “one of the more intriguing story lines of the banking industry’s consolidation since the financial crisis is the persistent belief that federal regulators privately want a more concentrated industry with fewer banks because it would be easier for them to supervise, and they signal their support for this laissez-faire policy every time they approve an acquisition.”

Against this backdrop, I am looking forward to hearing Vice President Joe Biden speak at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business this afternoon. I have a lot of respect for the Vice President, and find his remarks on “The Importance of Sound Financial Sector Regulation” to fit the timely and relevant standards that we prize at Bank Director and FinXTech. Thanks to the business school’s Center for Financial Markets and Policy for inviting me. As appropriate, I will share my takeaways from this presentation via twitter – @aldominick — and with a follow up post on this blog ASAP.

Financially Focused Friday Fun

1st stop at the Ferry Building in SF
Always my 1st stop at the Ferry Building in SF

What does my favorite, favorite, favorite purveyor of coffee have to do with banking (and payments)? I’ll do my best to connect the dots in this week’s financially focused Friday post. If you missed the last few week’s, take a spin on our way back machine, aka the search button on left.

As I do every Friday, what follows are three stories that I read/watched/heard this week. While tempted to open with a longer mention of seagulls, social media and white smoke, let me see if a picture really is worth a thousand words. This one succinctly captures the feelings that many community bankers have shared with regards to the last few year’s worth of new government regulation and scrutiny. It also sets up the first of this week’s three points:

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  • The WSJ ran an interesting piece entitled Small Banks in U.S. Hit by Rising Insurance Costs earlier this week. The premise: thousands of small U.S. banks “are feeling a financial pinch from the government’s efforts to punish executives and directors of banks that collapsed during the height of the financial crisis.” While I promise not to dwell on insurance costs or D+O liability issues today, Robin Sidel’s coverage (which I think originated at our M&A conference in January?) echoes what I’ve heard from bank executives. Namely, “the insurance squeeze is the latest headache for community banks that are still grappling with fallout from the financial crisis. Low interest rates, new regulations and tepid loan demand are pressuring profit. Many small banks would like to get out of the jam by selling themselves but can’t find buyers.”

Truth be told, I’m a bit talked out about bank M&A this week, so I won’t go down that path for point number two. Organic growth proves far more interesting — as its currently far more elusive:

  • On the same day I sat down with the founder and CEO of the Bank of Georgetown (who I think is doing a heckuva job building his bank), I had the chance to catch up with John Cantarella, President, Digital, News & Sports Group at Time Inc. Both talked about how banks are growing/changing; albeit, in much different terms. While Bank of Georgetown continues to build through commercial lending, let me share some thoughts inspired by John. In full disclosure, he recently sat down with our Chairman and agreed to speak to bank CEOs, board members and C-level execs our Growth conference in New Orleans. Subsequently, John and I talked about the focus of his presentation, “Standing Out in a Digital World,” and how he might introduce disruptive technologies and the companies bringing them to market (e.g. Simple and Square). If you’re not familiar with Square, its considered one of the hottest companies in the mobile payments space. When I hopped on their site to dig deeper, I saw that Blue Bottle Coffee Co. recently adopted Square for its point-of-sale. You should DM our Associate Publisher to find out how long she thinks it took for me to add this to today’s piece. So consider this my nod to both companies, our conference and this DC community bank. All interesting stories that really should have their own posts. Hmmm…. next week?

Finally, I do take comfort knowing a pendulum can swing only so far. While strictly my opinion, I believe too many folks within the various regulatory bodies focused on financial institutions (not hedge funds, not multi-national financial services organizations) are missing huge opportunities to contribute to — and communicate with — the banks they oversee. While I get off my soapbox, let me conclude with my third and final point from this week:

  • I saw the Comptroller of the Currency discussed community bank supervision at the Independent Community Bankers of America Annual Convention yesterday. I’m not in Las Vegas nor attending their event, so I simply hope the OCC’s lawyers didn’t totally overhaul his remarks. There are a lot of very real questions/concerns I know bankers would like addressed (e.g. Basel III, the tax benefits credit unions enjoy compared to community banks, etc.). If you were there and care to share, I’d be interested in any feedback/insight…

Aloha Friday to all!

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