Insurance News

Small banks say new mortgage regulations too onerous

Posted on: August 15, 2011

NORWALK, Iowa — Alesia Harlan plopped the thick folder on the desk and started flipping through papers.

Disclosures, notices, statements, forms and tax documents — it was about 300 pages, and it was just a home loan.

Last year, reviewing the bank’s 455 home loan applications created more than two months of work for Harlan, a compliance officer at City State Bank in Norwalk, Iowa.

“I’ve yet to see the benefit to the customer,” said Harlan. “It’s highly technical and confusing for the borrower.”

Harlan says the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which became law in July 2010, nearly doubled what she must review and report to regulators, with little margin for error. And that, she says, is only a portion of the avalanche of new regulation that has executives at smaller banks concerned.

The bill is massive — 2,300 pages — and bankers expect it to result in 5,000 pages of new rules as regulators turn its mandates into specific instructions for financial institutions in coming years.

Bankers worry the flood of new paperwork could choke community banks, regulating some out of existence.

“Bank of America can fill a skyscraper with attorneys to comply with all the rules and regulations, but a community bank can’t do that,” said Jim Schipper, Iowa’s banking superintendent. “I know some bankers that are probably just going to quit making mortgage loans. I mean, what’s the point?”

Small banks in America have been disappearing for decades. In 1984, the nation’s largest banks — those with more than $10 billion in assets — controlled 28% of the industry, according to FDIC data. Now, they control 79% of the market. Banks with less than a billion in assets are holding 11% of the market, compared with 40% in 1984.

Bankers believe Dodd-Frank will hasten the consolidation.

“It’s such a complicated piece of legislation, it will be to the benefit of the largest institutions, not because they want it to be, but because it forces consolidation, and that’s a tragedy for this country,” said Thomas Hoenig, outgoing president of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, in a speech in Des Moines in June.

The law requires bankers to track customer overdrafts and near-overdrafts, which businesses they lend to, and how they compensate lenders to prove they aren’t rewarding risky lending. Many small banks don’t have the technology to track this information, and the necessary software and training are additional expenses.

“It’s very much a concern for the typical bank in Texas,” said John Heasley, vice president of the Texas Bankers Association in Austin. “They’re already spending extensive funds for compliance costs, and Dodd-Frank is viewed as adding insult to injury.”

Perhaps the greatest source of banker anxiety is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by Dodd-Frank with power to create new bank rules.

“It almost looks as if the ‘too big to fail’ banks got a free ride,” Heasley said. “The banks in Texas, who had nothing to do with the origination of toxic mortgages, securitization of those mortgages, or the sale of credit default swaps, are being made to pay for the sins of others.”

Not everyone thinks Dodd-Frank will be a catastrophe for community banks. Neil Stanley, a former bank president who runs Bank Performance Strategies, a consulting firm in Omaha, said banking is changing just like other industries. “I don’t want to make it sound like I think it’s no big deal,” Stanley said. “Banking has some formidable challenges, and we do have to raise the bar and do things that are more onerous than they were before. But who doesn’t?”

Some supporters of Dodd-Frank argue that bankers are just whining.

In a hearing in June, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said, “In all the years I have heard people complain about the unlevel playing field, I have never heard of an instance in which anybody was at the top of the level playing field. We have a constantly declining playing field in which everybody is at the bottom, and no one has ever been at the top.”

© 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc

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