In Case You Missed It

N.M. bank regulator: Some federal laws ‘onerous’

Washington, September 26, 2011 -

By Winthrop Quigley
Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE — Bankers looking for understanding and support as they struggle with new federal regulations need look no further than the third floor of the Toney Anaya Building on Cerrillos Road where the state’s chief financial institutions regulator has her office.


Cynthia Richards, who was appointed in July, finds many of the provisions of new federal banking reform laws, known as Dodd-Frank, to be “onerous” and says their effect is largely to protect banks that are too big to fail. It’s a category that none of the state-chartered banks and credit unions she oversees falls into.


“When we see this act fully implemented we’re going to see across the nation the effect on competitiveness and the profound effect on the economy, and not for the good,” Richards said.


The major problem she sees with new federal laws is that they are designed for Goldman Sachs and not for the small, rural banks that constitute many of the 37 state-chartered banks the state Financial Institutions Division is responsible for regulating.


Some regulations are going to be difficult to implement, costly and confusing, Richards said. Others will cost banks some revenue.


“I get numerous phone calls from bankers just wanting to talk about it,” Richards said. “I’m overwhelmed with the concern smaller banks have with this act.”


Compared to neighboring states, New Mexico’s state-chartered banks are “very healthy,” she said.


Most of the problem banks since 2008 have been in the metropolitan areas along the Rio Grande. Small banks in rural areas “didn’t get hit as hard,” Richards said. “From what I’ve seen go across my desk, there are certainly some weak areas, but there is nothing that can’t be corrected.”


There are still some banks that have an over-concentration of commercial real estate loans, though some bankers can defend those concentrations if they have the expertise to manage their portfolios, Richards said. Outside of real estate, state regulators aren’t seeing any significant problem areas.


Part of the credit goes to bank management and boards of directors that have become much more vigilant about assessing risk, Richards said.


“From what I’ve seen, managements and boards of directors are taking their positions more seriously,” she said. “Management is responsible for the failure of a bank. When the nation as a whole and especially states see banks fail, it’s alarming. It alarms managers and the boards of other facilities. It wakes them up.”


“There has to be oversight,” Richards said. “But we’re regulators. We’re not there to run the banks.”


Richards was a music teacher until 1983 when she joined Texas National Bank in Waco as a loan assistant.


“The students didn’t take music as seriously as I did,” she said.


Richards worked for American Bank in Rio Rancho and Western Bank in Albuquerque. She specialized in working out problem loans at First Community Bank, which is now U.S. Bank, when she was tapped to run the Financial Institutions Division.

Print version of this document