Keeping New York's Banking System Sound and Innovative; Considine Discusses DeWind, Dual Banking, and Her Role

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NEW YORK STATE Banking Superintendent. To Jill M. Considine, the title had a nice ring. So when the 41-year-old career banker was nominated for the post last spring, she was understandably ecstatic.

"It feels absolutely wonderful," the said at the time. "Unless people are in banking, they can't really understand it from an emotional point of view."

Case in point: her husband, New York Criminal Court Justice Martin H. Rettinger. She said: "I had to look for an appropriate analogy. I said, HMarty, it's like this: How would you feel if someone asked you to replace [Justice William] Rehnquist on the Supreme Court?' Then he understood."

If Ms. Considine's respect for the position seems a bit overblown, it is a measure of the influence she feels the New York superintendent can have on the banking system nationwide. After all, New York is home to four of the country's five largest bank holding companies, 104 national banks, 87 savings and loan associations, 90 savings banks, and outlets for every major foreign bank in the world, all holding $660 billion in assets -- a quarter of the nation's total.

"This is the place to be," she said. "This is where the action is."

Ms. Considine's penchant for "the action" is something she readily admits to. "It's been sort of a historical repetition," she said. "I started out in in college mjaoring in biochemistry and working in nucleic acids in the '60s, when no one had ever heard of DNA or RNA or chemical engineering. Then in the late '60s to early '70s I was working in computers, programming software when no one knew what that meant. And then I started working with minicomputers in the mid-'70s, when people only knew what the larger computers were."

Her professional trek began at Bankers Trust Co. in 1969. Two years later she moved to chase Manhattan Bank, where she was promoted to various management positions in operations, strategic planning, and product development. She returned to Bankers Trust in 1981 in the commercial lending department, and in 1983, she became president and chief executive officer of the First Women's Bank of New York. There, she was credited with turning an ailing institution into a solid moneymaker.

As the new banking superintendent, Ms. Considine said her first concern -- after the safety and soundness of the system -- would be to maintain New York's reputation as an industry innovator, in this case by working to pass a bill that would require banks to offer low- or no-cost banking services in exchange for the right to sell and eventually underwrite insurance. The bill is based on recommendations by the so-called DeWind Commission, a state-appointed panel that studied ways to change New York's financial services regulatory structure.

In an interview with the American Banker recently, Ms. Considine shared her views on matters such as the DeWind bill, the dual banking system, and her role as superintendent. What follows are excerpts from that 40-minute exchange.

Q. Why did the job interest you?

A. Situations that have a lot of issues and problems in them appeal to me. I guess [it was] everything that's been going on at the state level with the DeWind Commission -- the insurance powers, the new powers that have come out for thrifts. That was one part.

Then there was what's been going on with Washington, with the dual banking system being threatened and up in the air. This was really the place where everything seemed to be happening. It was an opportunity I just couldn't turn down.

Q. What are the philosophical issues here?

A. If you start by looking on the national level, there's the philosophical issue of the dual banking system, which is really a states' rights issue. This is something that's been argued for 200 years.

I'm afraid that some of the advantages of dual banking are not being assessed properly because of the instability of the insurance systems. …