My bank is still making loans. We have none in default.
Here in the heart of Kansas, the sky isn't falling and Chicken Little isn't running around without a head. Community banks like mine are still making loans and serving the needs of customers.
I used to worry about competing in the world of mega "too-big-to-fail" banks. But now I know community banks offer something the monsters can never offer -- real personal service. Many financial-type businesses say they offer the same thing, but they usually don't list personal numbers in the phone book and probably aren't driving the volunteer fire truck. My father always told me that character repaid many more debts than collateral ever would. Community banks form long-term relationships with customers.
During the farm crisis of the 1980s the over-line credits we had placed with the city correspondent banks were called. A community bank used to rely on participating loans with large metro banks. For example, if my bank had a regulatory loan limit of a million dollars and I made a two million dollar loan, I would "sell" the over-line to a large bank. These large banks suddenly suspended and called all rural credits. This is probably similar to what is happening to borrowers who use super-large banks in today's panic environment. There was nothing wrong with these loans but every small bank suffered from this irrational wrath.
A group of fellow bankers formed an ad hoc loan-pooling arrangement and we traded loans. Not a dime was lost, no borrowers were sold out and we didn't need a government bailout. It did instill a fierce sense of independence and self reliance.
Today we are reacting to a crisis that absolutely everyone knew was going to happen. Can you tell me that the entire congressional delegation from California didn't read a newspaper or watch any TV when unregulated brokers were offering 100% loans and allowing borrowers to make up their income?
Appraisal rules were established after the savings-and-loan debacle. The brokers and packagers weren't regulated so some appraisers really had a field day being creative. And now the government thinks we need new rules? They didn't enforce the existing ones.
Community bankers get really ticked off when Treasury can, with the stroke of a pen, guarantee $50 billion in money-market mutual funds, including the tax exempt funds. These funds didn't participate in generating the guarantee dollars, weren't regulated, and aren't subject to Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) rules. Why does that not surprise me? The CRA was passed in 1977 to ensure that banks meet the credit needs of their local communities but in effect practically compelled some regulated lenders to make loans to people and projects that have limited ability to repay them. Billions of these loans have been made, with a large percentage of the housing loans ending up at Fannie Mae. Community banks feel that if we must follow these CRA rules to comply with deposit insurance regulators, then anyone else receiving government guarantees should as well. Banks paid for all of the FDIC fund dollars as well as the operating costs of their regulators. We have been competing with these money-market funds for years, they mess up and now are handed a "get out of jail free" card.
All of the media pressure about this terrible crisis has really worried people. We community bankers must spend time reassuring folks that everything will be fine. The best way I have found to do that is to make more loans this September than we made a year ago, offer new products, and serve a fantastic group of customers with home loans at our bank where all is well and none are facing foreclosure.
If the government really wanted to help banks stimulate this economy, all that would be needed is a bonfire eliminating redundant red tape. While starter homes may cost a half-million dollars in some parts of this country, they are one-tenth of that here. So why does the borrower sign but three pieces of paper to process a $50,000 auto loan but needs two dozen-plus documents (which are never read) for a home purchase of the same amount? All that extra paperwork sure didn't protect anyone in this crisis.
Can anyone tell me why my small bank headquartered in a town of 1,100 is subject to the onerous rules of CRA, HMDA, CIP, FACTA, Red Flag and others? We have no red-lined areas or stop lights and everyone is making a low or moderate income. We were probably at the hospital when the borrower was born.
I am really concerned about my grandchildren's future being mortgaged by a $1 trillion porked-up bailout. But our small bank, along with many others, is alive and well and still making loans. To paraphrase the late great Kansas newspaperman William Allen White: What's right with Kansas are the more than 300 local banks taking care of Main Street.
Mr. Wyckoff is president of Labette Bank in southeast Kansas.
Nothing's the Matter With Kansas - WSJ.com