Last week, FDIC Chairman Martin Greunberg announced that the FDIC was rescinding a policy that it instituted during the depths of the last recession, of requiring heightened scrutiny of de novo banks during their first eight years of existence, and was returning to the policy of the "good old days," when new banks suffered life under an regulatory electron microscope for only three years. Gruenberg claims that "the FDIC welcomes applications for deposit insurance, and we clearly have a role to play in facilitating the establishment of new institutions." He also claimed that the reason that de novo applications have slowed to "a trickle" since the start of the Great Recession is because of economic factors, not a real or imagined FDIC moratorium on insurance of accounts for de novo banks.
I should note that establishing even a small community bank is a challenging endeavor. Developing a sound business plan, raising the needed financial resources and recruiting competent leadership and staff takes work and we want to ensure that every new institution that is established is in a position to succeed.
But we are very committed to working with and providing support to any group with an interest in starting a community bank. To that end, we are developing a handbook to guide applicants through the review process.
There is ample room for new community banks with sound funding and well conceived business plans to serve their local markets. It is essential that they have a clear path to approval.
This all sounds well and good on the surface. However, I'm with attorney Charles Horn who, writing in the National Law Journal, indicates that he is, like me, from Missouri on this matter.
That said, the dearth in new deposit insurance approvals in recent years has, to some extent, become a self-fulfilling prophecy in that a perceived FDIC reluctance to approve new deposit insurance applications has helped suppress industry interest in establishing new banks. Chairman Gruenberg is correct, in part, in attributing the decline in deposit insurance applications to post-financial crisis economic conditions. At the same time, experience has shown us that persons wanting to organize a new insured depository institution have been discouraged by the FDIC’s failure to approve more than a small handful of new deposit insurance applications in the past few years (none so far in 2016, two in 2015, none in 2014, three in 2011, and two in 2010, according to the FDIC’s website).
While we state the obvious in saying that the best way for the FDIC to encourage the formation of new banks is to approve more deposit insurance applications, the point here is that it is actions—not words—that will speak the loudest on this subject.
There is no question that these are still difficult times to make money in the community banking business, no matter how much lipstick Gruenberg paints on the lips of the community banking business in the course of his address (and he lathers it on in rosy red hues in the linked article). A good portion of that difficulty is due to the small interest rate spreads and low interest rates imposed by the Federal Reserve's policies over the past nine years, which, as of today, seem rooted in place. Nevertheless, as the Federal Reserve's own economists have noted, the dearth of de novos is also due to the regulatory burdens placed on the small banks by the FDIC, FRB, and OCC. Greunberg does state that a "gentler approach" and "tiered regulation" are on the way. If true, this relief will be welcome.
We'll have to wait and see whether this promise of more de novos is true or false. As we noted just a few months ago, even those applicants who have weathered the storm and made it over the finish line have painted a grim picture of the time and expense required, as well as of much higher capital requirements (which means reduced return on equity). If organizers expect to pay consultants and attorneys hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist them in raising capital, creating extensive business plans, and preparing detailed applications for insurance of accounts, I think that they want to feel more confident that they will have a decent shot at approval.
As Horn observes, in this area, actions will speak louder than words.