Can Exam Hostility Be Reduced?

Article excerpt

Increased pressure placed on bankers and regulators by Congress has created an examination environment often filled with animosity. Have bankers and regulators forgotten they share the common goal of maintaining a safe and sound banking system? Why are examinations often endured with the enthusiasm of a visit to the dentist?

At two separate conferences, one attended by bank officers and another artended by senior regulatory personnel, we asked participants to complete an informal survey of two questions:

(1) What is your greatest fear/dislike of an examination?

(2) What one word would you use to describe a bank examiner/banker?

The respective answers, which are surprisingly similar, could help restore a spirit of cooperation to a necessary and useful process.

BANKERS' RESPONSES

* Fear of unknowingly doing something wrong.

Most of the bank officers listed this as their greatest concern.

The best way to help alleviate this fear is to stay abreast of current changes in regulations by attending seminars and meetings held by banker groups, which are often supported by regulatory authorities. Stay current with industry publications and policy releases of regulatory authorities. Because the volume of information is so great, appoint people to stay informed about key changes pertinent to their specialized areas.

During the examination process, communicate with examiners. An examination is often viewed as an educational process by bankers who weather examinations well. If a banker appears open and willing to cooperate and learn, the examiners are usually willing to work with the banker on problem resolution. However, bankers providing antagonistic views based on ignorance prove easy targets.

* Examination "hot buttons" that cause heavy criticism without warning.

After an examination, have you ever been left wondering why something was criticized that was never criticized before, or why some of the criticisms seemed to come out of the blue? This is sometimes a game that is played. Regulators issue internal memorandums to examiners providing the latest updates on interpretations of policy and regulations. Armed with the new interpretations, examiners often try to see how many bankers can be caught off guard.

Another cause for this phenomenon is that one bad bank starts a domino effect throughout the industry. After leaving a bad bank, the examiners wonder how many more banks have the same problems.

Again, the best way to deal with this concern is education and keeping current on events taking place in the industry.

* Competition between regulatory authorities (and sometimes examiners).

Turf battles are waged between the federal agencies and between the feds and the states for state-chartered institutions. Often an attitude develops of proving who can be the biggest and baddest. This friendly competition can sometimes be felt in the field as one team tries to outregulate the other.

This competition also exists to some extent between examiners. The examiner-in-charge sometimes has the attitude that the last examination was the worst ever performed and that it will change this time.

As a means of resolving this problem, meet with the regulators and discuss what is happening. As a lastditch effort, run for cover to the alternative chartering authority. However, this will only work once and the alternative may not be better.

* Negative examiner attitude.

Examiners sometimes have negative attitudes because they are trained to look for the negative. Additionally, examiners sometimes see bankers doing a mediocre-to-poor job and being rewarded handsomely while they are stuck on a government pay scale with little or no flexibility for good-to-excellent performers.

While there is not much bankers can do about the compensation problem, open communication will help alleviate some of the discontent. …