I don’t mean to go all Eddie Chiles on you, GonzoBankers, but I’m going to have to tiptoe outside of my normally peachy disposition and get a little dark and angry this week. You’ll understand. Consider a few articles I’ve read over the past few months.
Hmmmm … Less FDIC Insurance = Less Regulation. Kinda makes sense to me.
Addressing the credit union’s membership reaction to the proposed move to ASI, Velocity President and CEO Debbie Mitchell said: “They trusted us to do the right thing. Some people were opposed; other people wanted to know the history … There were very few phone calls … not a lot of member reaction.” (Emphasis added, and rightly so.)
In true Gibsonesque style, my analysis of the data tells me one thing:
We must rid our industry of the Bank Insurance Fund and the FDIC, a punitive, dawdling embodiment of bureaucratic incompetence that has hamstrung, not protected, our industry.
It can’t happen over night and won’t happen even in a few years, but the FDIC must go for our industry to realize its full potential. The very protection that the FDIC provides us is the crutch that will trip us. I’m certainly not the first one to propose this, but I don’t hear much about it anymore. The time has come to review our options.
Consider the June 1985 paper by CATO Institute’s Catherine England – Private Deposit Insurance: Stabilizing The Banking System (CATO Policy Analysis No. 54). England brings up some insightful points. The time traveling first sentences in her article are these: “Banking regulation is at a crossroads unlike any since the 1930s. Fundamental decisions are being made that will shape the future of the financial services industry. At the heart of the issue is the role the federal government should play in the banking industry of the future.
In true Less-is-More CATO fashion, England’s policy (with some Gonzo editorializing thrown in) says that the government/FDIC is may be the worst entity conceivable to insure/protect consumers’ deposits:
Today, the public is not incented to truly learn about banks and how they operate because they have that FDIC insurance, which protects most deposits no matter what the banks do. We have effectively taken the market discipline out of the hands of the market and placed it in the pudgy pink hands of the government. With that guarantee gone, we as consumers would have to do some homework on the banks we patronize, like we do with Morningstar before we invest in a mutual fund. In turn, banks would have to perform up to OUR standards, or WE’LL enforce market propriety with our wallets and with our legs.
I don’t think the CATO Institute went far enough, though. In the ultimate end of the FDIC, banks would operate in an outside-regulation-free environment, with self-regulation taking on utmost importance, and the mighty market will be the prowling Igor, the shotgun-toting enforcer.
Ahem. Clearly, there are legal and practical hurdles to clear – lots of them – between now and then.
That said, the time to start moving that way is here. The value of FDIC insurance right now is as overstated as it has ever been; the FDIC value proposition simply does not work when the public doesn’t trust the government. Family-owned and true community-based mid-size banks are the most poised to begin the movement away from the FDIC. I see the rock solid, heart-level relationships my clients are able to forge with their local communities – consumers and businesses alike. These banks and credit unions are an integral thread in the drawstring holding up their communities’ drawers. They, unlike their big bank counterparts and the government, are trusted. (Check out “The Least Trusted Banks in America,” The New York Times, Feb. 9, 2010)
Once again I bring my Fair Readers back to Trust and how it, not regulation or insurance protection, drives the financial industry’s success and failure. GonzoBankers, think how quickly you could try new ideas, establish products and services to cater to a niche, and act in a truly entrepreneurial fashion if you didn’t have The Man breathing down your neck.
Now is the time to start moving in that direction. We – smaller banks, mid-size banks and the public – are bailing out the big banks while they continue to plump up on fat bonuses. And why don’t they get penalized by the market? Because the public does not give a rat’s about fat-cat bonuses as long as their funds are protected. We care enough to whine, but we don’t care enough to leave the big banks in the dust.
But without the FDIC insurance, the public would over time assert itself and do business only with banks they trust. Community and mid-size bankers – GonzoBankers! – the industry would be yours for the taking. All you would have to do in the long run is to ensure that the market – your customers – trusts you more than it trusts the government. And, uh, that’s not exactly setting the hurdle to stratospheric levels. Look at this:
Source: CBS News
GonzoFreaks, keeping the public’s trust would mean having rigorous self-discipline and the ability to move as fast as the market will demand. It would mean making loans to people no matter what neighborhood they live in. It would mean making loans with fair rates and terms to minorities and women. It would mean knowing customers better than anyone else does. It would mean protecting customers’ privacy with a vengeance. It would mean not charging predatory fees. Come to think of it – community and mid-sized banks would have to do nothing more than they’re doing already!!
To succeed in this utopian pipe dream, our industry – WE – would have to be able to put our entrepreneurial money where our anti-regulation mouths are. It’s a big, fat, 10-year goal, not a tactical goal for 2011. Between FDIC-free banking and right now, there will probably be some level of variable-price/variable-regulation, some mix of government and private insurance, pure private insurance, etc.
I tremble to think that in a single article I have agreed with the CATO Institute, Citibank and Chase. I swear I’m not abandoning my liberal roots, saying the market should rule all, or trying to shut down the government. But, damn, when faced with the brash ineptitude of the FDIC, Bair’s Band of Brain-dead Bureaucrats, and the toll they are taking on our industry, we cannot with good conscience try to just tweak and fine tune. We need something with a more wholesale nature at this point.Done over time, 86-ing the FDIC would not cause a run on deposits or even let banks run roughshod over the public. Community and mid-size bank customers already trust their financial institutions more than they trust the government. These banks are already doing what they would need to do to retain that trust in the absence of a deceptive insurance policy. That’s half the battle. It’s possible.
“A dream it’s true
But I’d see it through
If I could be
Wasting my time with you”
–“Waste” by Phish
Once you have earned your customers’ trust, how do you stay top of mind with them as their financial institution of choice?
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