Help Us Help U.S.

By Dorothy Savarese

Help me help you. That’s not only one of several memorable lines made famous by the movie Jerry Maguire. It’s also the essence of the message ABA has sent to our nation’s elected leaders. In a letter to President Donald Trump the day after his election, and in our communications with the 115th Congress, ABA has asked policymakers to help us help them achieve our shared goals for a vibrant and growing economy.

Our message is a reflection of who we are and what we do. Banks don’t make widgets. We make loans—with some $8 trillion worth currently on banks’ books. And loans by their definition help to expand the financial capacity of our customers, enabling a family to build wealth through homeownership, a farmer to buy new technology or equipment to increase yields, or a small business to grow and hire more employees.

Banks also are in the security business—safeguarding $12 trillion in deposits, keeping customers’ personal financial information secure and ensuring the timely delivery of more than $150 trillion worth of payments. Put these core functions together, add in the many other money management services banks offer, and you’ve got an industry whose very mission is creating prosperity.

In addition, the tangible and intangible benefits to America’s hometowns through banks’ donations and volunteerism make a dramatic impact on their viability and vitality that is difficult to quantify, but easily seen. When banks appeal to policymakers for help, we do so on behalf of their constituents—and our customers, clients and communities. That should make it easier to get to “yes,” but sometimes it’s not just in what we say, but how we say it. And what we focus on—our customers and communities or our bottom line.

ABA’s Government Relations Council and Board of Directors considered this when we met in December to set our policy priorities for 2017. We talked about the importance of telling lawmakers and regulators not what banks want but what those whom we represent need. We outlined what we are for, not what we are against. The result is ABA’s “Blueprint for Growth,” a policy framework that makes clear the positive connection between banks, our customers, our communities and the nation’s economy.

Specifically, our blueprint calls for policies that:

  • Grow the economy. This includes more efficient bank regulation and policies that help borrowers take advantage of credit markets, such as providing relief to those suffering from crushing student debt.
Encourage innovation while protecting consumers. Fintech can increase U.S. competitiveness and promote financial inclusion. At the same time, the proliferation of entities that handle personal financial information increases risks to consumers. We must balance support for innovation while ensuring common high standards for consumer and data protection.
  • Rebuild the housing market. Homeownership and affordable housing can help stabilize communities and provide wealth-building opportunities. We should encourage both by, among other things, streamlining mortgage lending rules and resolving our nation’s housing finance policy, which has been in limbo since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went into conservatorship.
  • Remove impediments to serving customers. Overly prescriptive regulation and overzealous enforcement is counter-productive, keeping banks from serving customers as they want to be served. The best solutions ensure that fundamental standards are met but also offer providers flexibility to meet the needs of their communities.

These are guiding principles for policies that we believe will help America’s banks fulfill their fundamental mission of creating jobs and growth. We believe we have a compelling and positive message to Washington that all bankers can deliver: Help us help America thrive.

ABA chairman Dorothy Savarese is chairman, president and CEO of Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, Orleans, Mass.