Can BankAmerica's Finance Chief Work His Magic for Uncle Sam

By Zuckerman, Sam | American Banker, February 1, 1993 | Go to article overview
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Can BankAmerica's Finance Chief Work His Magic for Uncle Sam

Zuckerman, Sam, American Banker

SAN FRANCISCO - The banking industry's most respected chief financial officer is going to Washington.

Frank N. Newman, a vice chairman and CFO of Bank-America Corp., was nominated two weeks ago to become under secretary of the Treasury for domestic finance, one of the nation's key economic policymaking posts.

Mr. Newman - a central figure behind the San Francisco bank's remarkable recovery and expansion in the last few years - has a knack for performing feats of financial magic.

|The Best in the Industry'

Witness the accounting legerdemain by which Mr. Newman was able to write off virtually the entire net worth of Security Pacific Corp. while still notching record profits in 1992. Bank-America acquired its California rival last April in the banking industry's largest-ever merger.

"Frank Newman is the best CFO in the industry," said longtime Newman-watcher Thomas K. Brown, an analyst with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp.

The White House, for its part, has created a reserve of credibility with the banking community for picking an individual of stature and intellectual depth to oversee domestic finance.

"His style is low-key - he's never bombastic," said H. Rodgin Cohen, who runs the banking law practice at Sullivan and Cromwell in New York. "But he can overwhelm you with the force of his argument."

Mr. Newman is expected to have little trouble being confirmed by the Senate.

Banker Close to Power

For the banking industry, his arrival at the Treasury Department will mean that one of its own will be at the table when decisions are made.

"I think it's great," said John R. Haggerty, chief financial officer of UJB Financial Corp. in Princeton, N.J. "I'm just very happy that somebody who understands our problems will be at Treasury."

Mr. Newman, 50, should be fun to listen to when he goes to Capitol Hill: His presentations to security analysts are widely described as brilliant.

Not surprisingly, however, some consumer groups are wary. To some critics, putting a banker in the top ranks of a department that regulates the industry smacks more of a Bush White House than of the supposedly populist Clinton administration.

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss," gibed Tom Schlesinger, quoting lyrics sung by the rock group The Who

Duties Yet to Be Defined

Mr. Schlesinger directs the North Carolina-based Southern Finance Project, a research group that has often criticized the banking industry.

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Can BankAmerica's Finance Chief Work His Magic for Uncle Sam


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