Some might be surprised to learn that I’ve encountered circumstances so unbelievable I’ve been left speechless (hard to believe, I know), but last Thursday was one of those times. After years of meeting with the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to raise concerns about the harmful impact of its proposed accounting reforms on community banks, I was astonished to find that no one at FASB has listened to a single word we’ve said. In a recent speech, FASB Chairman Russell Golden had the gall to not only dismiss community bank concerns with the proposal, but also to implicate Main Street banks in the Wall Street financial crisis!
In addition to misrepresenting his organization’s proposal and what it will mean for local lenders (more on that later), Golden said that bank failures following the crisis show that community banks were a “major part of the problem.” I was so struck by this outright fabrication—this slander against the hardworking Americans who pulled our economy out of Wall Street’s toilet—that I was at a complete loss for words, for about a minute. Then it came time to respond and call these remarks out for what they are: a cynical and ahistorical justification of shoddy policies by an organization that refuses to acknowledge its own mistakes.
As ICBA noted this week in a letter from our entire Executive Committee, the truth is that the vast majority of community banks fared extremely well during the Wall Street crisis because of their personalized, relationship-based business model—the very model that FASB accounting reforms completely contradict. While too-big-to-fail banks developed irresponsible financial instruments that incentivized disastrous risk-taking and then survived on taxpayer assistance after wrecking the economy, community banks continued their business of meeting face-to-face with their customers and providing badly needed credit. Blaming community banks for the crisis is like blaming Poland for World War II. It shows either a misunderstanding of our financial system, a disdain for local financial institutions, or a selective historical view that one might expect at a lower Manhattan cocktail lounge—not the nation’s financial accounting standards-setter.
Adding insult to injury, Golden also flatly disavows the cost and complexity inherent in FASB’s proposed Current Expected Credit Loss model (CECL). In fact, the CECL plan requires banks of all sizes to record a provision for credit losses the moment they make a loan, mandating expensive credit modeling systems that will crush the localized financial decision-making that is fundamental to community bank lending. Further, Golden downplayed the strict regulatory requirements the new standards will necessitate, showing a clear disconnect with regulators that have already launched webinars on the plan and have predicted a resulting 30 to 50 percent hike in loan-loss reserves.
This financial accounting doublespeak demonstrates a callous disregard for ICBA’s repeated attempts to make FASB’s plan work for community banks—including numerous meetings, our alternative proposal based on historical losses, and the nearly 5,000 community bankers who signed ICBA’s petition advocating the alternative model. If FASB continues to ignore the community banking industry’s calls for reform, the damage to our industry, the American consumer, and local economies will be irreparable. Golden’s temerity might have left me momentarily speechless, but it’s only going to turn up the volume of our opposition to this costly, burdensome and economically catastrophic plan.