Beware the Ides

Tomorrow is March 15, the Ides of March. It is the date that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. The meaning of “ides,” derived from the Latin idus, is “half division.” Consequently the ides, for the month of March, falls on the 15th. Caesar was stabbed to death by a group of nearly 60 co-conspirators—many of whom were close to him—on the floor of the Roman Senate. And we think our modern-day political scene is scary!

Caesar had been warned repeatedly by a fortuneteller that he would be killed on the Ides of March, yet he joked mid-day on March 15 that he was still alive. When he boasted that the day was already half over, the soothsayer responded, “Ay, Caesar, but not gone.”

The banking business often falls victim to “half division” on political and regulatory issues. Figuratively we often suffer the same deadly consequences as Caesar. However bankers currently are united on two important issues.

First is the issue of very large credit unions—using the small credit unions as their human shields—attempting to legislatively increase their ability to fund business loans, while retaining their undeserved federal tax exemption. No good can possibly come from this effort. Either credit unions would make loans previously rejected by seasoned bank lenders, thus increasing charge offs significantly and in turn endangering their existence. Or they would steal loans from, primarily, community banks, thereby removing that interest income from taxable to tax-exempt. Bankers are united against this unwise proposal and must work hard to defeat it.

The second issue is that of examination accountability. Bankers are united, with federal regulators as our opponents. The accountability asked for in these proposals follows common sense and should be passed. Regulators look foolish by lobbying that they should not be restricted. Really? The ombudsman programs installed by existing regulators are a joke. The score on these appeals is: Bankers 0, Regulators 100 percent. This bill, among other provisions, would establish an independent ombudsman. Perhaps bankers will win an examination appeal once in a while under this scenario.

Please work hard to bring about a united banking industry where common sense wins. Caesar should have been more aligned with his Senate, instead of engaging in a “half division.” Caesar paid for his oversight with his life. Banks may pay with their institutions’ lives if a united industry does not work hard enough to prevail in these two issues.

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