Staff at ABA Center Help Navigate Compliance Seas

Article excerpt

In 1985 money laundering wasn't even a crime, and when the American Bankers Association handed responsibility for it to a newcomer, John Byrne, his more experienced colleagues figured the issue would be just a blip.

Twenty years later the trade group has created the Center for Regulatory Compliance to help bankers deal with a myriad of laws and rules, and has put Mr. Byrne, 48, at its helm.

Mr. Byrne says he wants the center to become the place bankers in compliance departments turn to when they have a problem. "And the next goal is for the people above them ... to say 'Call ABA.' "

He is optimistic about stemming red tape, but says it will take leadership -- and faith -- from the industry's top executives.

"What we really need is a recognition by senior management within the institutions that some regulations can be eliminated," Mr. Byrne said.

"This is probably the largest burden we've ever faced. Now the question is will it increase or will it lessen? It seems to me the answer is, 'It's up to us.' We can't whine and complain. We have to point out alternatives.

"I think we can do that. Maybe not this year, but we want to begin a comprehensive effort" to persuade Congress to roll back unnecessary regulation.

For instance, while law enforcement officials are keen on suspicious-activity reports, Mr. Byrne said bankers could devote more time to sniffing out potential terrorist financing if they weren't busy filing 13 million currency transaction reports every year. Likewise, he said, why make banks send customers an annual notice about privacy procedures even if they have changed nothing in the past year?

"We've got to make better decisions on resource allocation," he said.

The regulations the center helps bankers comply with run the gamut from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Community Reinvestment Act to the Truth-in-Lending Act.

"Not all regulations are bad," says Bill Hood, a former banker and one of Mr. Byrne's two deputies, "but the pure volume, I think, is overwhelming."

The other deputy is Richard Riese, the former director of compliance policy at the Office of Thrift Supervision. He left the government in June after eight years to become the center's senior compliance counsel. "We're here to help bankers keep pace with the breadth of compliance requirements and changes that are constantly at work," Mr. …