ABA leader issues call to action on reg relief bill

Rob Nichols speaking at the ABA’s National Conference for Community Bankers in Honolulu in February 2018.

Rob Nichols, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, issued a call to action Monday, urging an audience of more than 1,000 people to contact their U.S. Senators and urge them to support regulatory relief legislation.

Nichols spoke at the 38th annual National Conference for Community Bankers, taking place this week in Honolulu. In a 25-minute speech, he described what he called a “turning point” in Congress regarding its receptivity toward reg relief efforts.

“We are on the cusp of passing some really important legislation,” he told the audience as he described Senate Bill 2155. The bill provides for substantial regulatory relief for community banks, including an extended exam cycle, simplified capital rules, appraisal relief on some mortgages, and charter flexibility for thrifts, among other measures.

“There is a real recognition that part of the Dodd-Frank Act over-reached,” he said.

Nichols acknowledged the bill’s author, Sen. Mike Crapo, (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, along with four moderate Democrats – Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Warner (Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) – for advocating for the legislation. “They came together to craft legislation that would make the policy around community banks better. This is really exciting,” he said.

Nichols said he believes more than 60 senators will vote in favor of the legislation, which is enough for the measure to advance out of the Senate. He said the ABA is taking nothing for granted, however, and it is continuing to urge uncommitted senators to support it. He said his goal is to get 70 senators in support.

The U.S. House of Representatives would take it up if the Senate passes the legislation, “and the House already has indicated it supports this kind of legislation,” Nichols explained. He expects the Senate to vote on it in the next two or three weeks, adding he hopes to see legislation signed by the President “within a month or two.”

Anti-banking forces” are working hard against the bill, however, and they have sent more than 400,000 messages to the Senate urging them not to pass the bill, Nichols said. Bankers need to counter this effort and he urged them during his speech to take out their cell phones and text the ABA, which would provide a link to a letter they could send electronically to their own senators.

Nichols said it is important that Congress moves quickly on the issue, and he said messages from bankers would encourage Senators to act.

The numerous contacts bankers have made with members of Congress over the last two years have made a big difference. He said he is seeing a change in tone in Washington, D.C., around banking issues. “This is a bipartisan bill,” Nichols said. “If you would have told me a year ago that one of the first bipartisan bills to move through the Senate and then over to the House would be a banking bill in an election year, I would have said ‘you are crazy.’”