For community banks, 2017 potentially holds promise that has not been present in recent years. Effective March 2017, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) will implement a streamlined "Call Report" for banks with domestic offices only and total assets of less than $1 billion.1 The new FFIEC 051 Call Report reduces at least a bit of the burden for eligible small institutions and is intended to ease quarterly reporting requirements.
Groups such as the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) have been positive about the modifications, which reduce the length of the Call Report from 85 to 61 pages for smaller institutions by removing "approximately 950 or about 40 percent of the nearly 2,400 data items currently included in the FFIEC 041."2 According to the FFIEC, the most "substantive modification" is a reduction in the reporting frequency on certain attached schedules for loans to small businesses and farms from quarterly to semi-annually.3 This change alone was two years in the making and required significant efforts from organizations such as the ICBA, which collected thousands of signatures on petitions to the FFIEC to initiate this relatively minor reduction of the regulatory burden facing community banks.4
Not surprisingly, the ICBA says that its work is far from over, as many of the points in its "Plan for Prosperity" are embodied in several bills facing the new Congress in 2017. Highlights of the ICBA's plan include5:
- A full exemption from Basel III for "non-systematically important financial institutions" (non-SIFIs), or banks that are not large, internationally active institutions;
- Raising the current $50 billion threshold for identifying "systematically risky financial institutions" (SIFIs) under Title I of the Dodd-Frank Act, which is "too low" and "sweeps in too many banks" that pose no systemic risk;
- Revising the Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement per the Federal Reserve to increase the qualifying asset threshold from $1 billion to $5 billion;
- Changes to SEC rules to provide relief from attestation requirements for institutions with assets of less than $1 billion; and
- Reforming Regulation D so that anyone with a net worth of more than $1 million, including the value of their primary residence, would qualify as an "accredited investor," and increasing the number of non-accredited investors that could purchase stock under a private offering from 35 to 70.
The ICBA's wish list also includes changes to mortgage requirements, such as increasing the "small servicer" exemption threshold to 20,000 loans and allowing 100% of mortgage servicing rights (MSRs) to be included as common equity tier 1 capital.6 The ICBA also recommends increasing the exam cycle to two years for well-rated banks with up to $2 billion in assets, exempting non-SIFIs from stress testing requirements, and offering certain exemptions from examination and enforcement by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for institutions with assets of $50 billion or less.7
For the first time in many years, it appears that the 2017 Congress may give some of these matters serious consideration. While it is too early to tell whether the kind of issues outlined above will just remain on the wish lists of America's community banks and advocacy groups, the coming administration has expressed an overall willingness to look at the efficacy of our current regulatory framework. Among the themes outlined in the Financial Choice Act, a bill offered by Republicans, is that institutions that score well on examinations will be rewarded with an "off-ramp" for certain of the current Dodd-Frank requirements.8 The ICBA outlines similar themes by calling for longer examination cycles and certain exemptions for well-rated institutions.9
Statistics for the last decade or so indicate that some concern for the survival of community banks is warranted. While various viewpoints have been advanced from different sides of the issue, only a handful of community banks have landed new charters in recent years, while thousands have either closed or been merged into larger institutions.10 This is somewhat disconcerting, given that community banks account for more than 50% of all small business loans, and almost one out of every five U.S. counties have no other physical banking offices except those operated by community banks.11 Agriculture is especially reliant on community banks, which make approximately 90% of the loans to farmers.12 This is not surprising, given that community banks' boards of directors are often made up of local citizens who live and work in the towns in which the banks are based.
While no one will dispute the indispensable role global banks have played in bolstering the global economy, community banks appear to have been fighting for their survival over the last decade. Recent statements in support of community banks by the new administration and the new Congress have been enthusiastically received by community bank advocates.13
The message appears to have been resonating at state levels as well. The New York State Department of Financial Services has just suspended new cybersecurity rules that were set to go into effect in January 2017, perhaps in deference to calls from the ICBA and other advocacy groups that the rules did not account for the size, scope, and complexity of financial institutions.14 This comes at a time when community banks have been targeted by plaintiffs' attorneys for alleged failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and have struggled to meet other everyday challenges.15 For the immediate future, this is still mostly talk, albeit hopeful talk from the community bank perspective. Until concrete legislative changes are made, community banks and the communities they serve still struggle under the weight of the Dodd-Frank Act. But perhaps the sun is rising.