About 30 years ago, three of my friends and I would go on an annual fishing trip to Michigan City. Each year we chartered a boat for Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday morning. Of the four of us, only one was a real fisherman. He would bring along his father, Bill, who had been a local sports columnist and a sales representative for companies that sold fishing equipment. We also would meet with a longtime friend of Bill’s in Michigan City, who had a similar work history. Add in Captain Jack, another old friend, and we made up a motley crew of fishing novices and old pros. It was an eclectic assembly, and lots of fun.
Each year we also would mix in some serious talk on the Saturday night between fishing excursions, when we would all go to a nice restaurant. It did not take long before Bill and his two curmudgeon friends would start railing on about all of the things wrong with the world. Their favorite target was the federal government. They bemoaned all of the new regulations that were stripping them of their personal rights. (Sound familiar?) My three friends and I would listen to the arguments and vacillate between thinking these guys were either geniuses or crazy old men.
Looking back, I realize that they were neither. Instead they were well-informed, experienced gentlemen who had seen massive change to the world they had grown up in. Government was becoming more and more oppressive, and technology had upset every system they had become accustomed to during their careers.
Today I am much closer to being like these gentlemen than I would like to admit. I, too, believe that government is much more oppressive than when I was growing up. As for technology, clearly it has radically changed how I do my job today, compared to just a few years ago.
The technology challenge is simple: I can either learn it, or find someone who understands it to help me. The government oppression issue, though, is much harder to navigate. There are so many laws, compounded by regulations to implement those laws, that no one person has a complete grasp of the totality of our regulatory burden. For that reason, I am grateful that, last week, community bankers were invited to share their concerns before the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau following a field hearing that the CFPB had conducted on automobile financing in Indianapolis. Several community bankers took time to attend this “community banking listening session.” CFPB representatives listened to many concerns on a wide range of issues raised and, to their credit, took copious notes. I appreciate that CFPB reached out for candid feedback from bankers.
Yet, the CFPB is a poster child for an increasingly oppressive federal government. It is not charged with responsibility toward financial institution safety and soundness; its charge is to protect consumers financially. CFPB wields unbridled power that allows its agents to issue rules and regulations for all financial service providers, often handcuffing those providers. There needs to be a counterbalance. Every banker I speak to understands and agrees that consumers need to be treated fairly and respectfully, but those bankers feel they should be treated fairly and respectfully in return. Too often, regulations are written, and conversations with regulators begin with an underlying tone that bankers are guilty until and unless they can prove themselves innocent. Our country, of course, was founded on the premise that people are innocent until proven guilty.
Perhaps I have become the old curmudgeon that I witnessed 30 years ago, but this sure isn’t the environment in which I grew up. I do applaud the CFPB for inviting Indiana bankers to a listening session, however, and thank the bankers who took time from their hectic schedules to make the dialogue meaningful.
– S. Joe DeHaven