Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray both spoke Wednesday at the Independent Community Bankers of America national convention.
Both officials reassured members of the ICBA that their respective agencies are actively responding to requests for clarification on whether particular rules and guidance apply to community banks.
In other words, the hard tack they plan to take with the so-called 'Too Big To Fail' financial institutions may not be as evenly applied to community banks. In fact, the speeches indicate a much lighter regulatory environment. A prime example of this new ideology in action may be seen with the qualified mortgage standard.
"Having heard from (bankers), we are now working to more explicitly indicate which banks will be affected when we issue new regulatory proposals, final rules, or regulatory guidance," Bernanke said. "Although this change seems relatively simple, we hope it will help banks avoid allocating precious resources to poring over supervisory guidance that does not apply to them."
The Fed recently established a Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council, which draws its membership from smaller banks, credit unions, and savings associations. And last year, the Fed established a supervision subcommittee on smaller regional and community banking. Its primary role is to improve the central bank's understanding of community and regional banking conditions and to review policy proposals for their potential effect on the safety and soundness of smaller institutions.
Community banks account for a majority of bank failures since the 2008 financial crisis. Of the 392 bank failures between January 2008 and September 2011, 326 were community banks, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
"The good news is that, for the most part, community banks appear to be meeting their challenges. Profits of smaller banks were considerably higher in 2011 than in the previous year, nonperforming assets were lower, provisions for loan losses fell appreciably, and capital ratios improved," Bernanke told the ICBA.
Richard Cordray echoed Bernanke's remarks, saying that concerns of smaller banks are on the minds of the folks at the CFPB when they develop regulatory initiatives that might affect them.
The Consumer Bureau is required to adopt new mortgage rules that protect consumers over the next year. One of its most important rulemakings, Cordray said, is implementing a new statutory requirement that lenders make a good faith and reasonable determinations that a borrower can repay the mortgage — the qualified mortgage standard.
Other rules will address the origination of mortgages, including loan originator compensation and the origination of high-priced mortgages.
In January, Cordray told a House subcommittee that his agency will explore the possibility of excluding the smallest banks from some of its rules meant for banks that were directly responsible for the financil crisis.
Cordray said one way the CFPB could prevent overburdened community banks from having to comply with regulations is by setting minimum asset levels to which new rules would apply. He told the subcommittee the bureau would conduct analysis on how rules would impact banks with fewer than $10 billion in assets.
"On all of these fronts, we need to return to sound underwriting standards and sound customer service," Cordray, the former Ohio Treasurer, told members of the ICBA. "A number of new statutory provisions address mortgage servicing, including new disclosure requirements, force-placed insurance, the crediting of payments, and error resolution requirements. Here our principal goal is fair treatment of borrowers."