Tag Archives: lending

Signing of CRA in 1977

City National Bank Shows Why Some CRA Proposals are Wrong

New Orleans      There’s a big split within the federal banking establishment about what to do about revisions to the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act.  This is not your run of the mill, chest thumping, and elbow pushing in Washington over turf and regulatory jurisdiction.  It’s actually very important, particularly to low-and-moderate income families and their hopes of obtaining decent and affordable housing.

Recent reports had the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) moving forward without agreement from the other major players, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and, most importantly, the Federal Reserve Bank, which is the primary enforcer of the banks CRA obligations in lending.  The OCC gang wants to give banks credit for putting big dollops of dollars somewhere close to lower income neighborhoods and letting the big one-off expenditures cover their CRA requirements without focusing on family lending.  The FDIC has joined them in large part.  The Federal Reserve has finally come out foursquare against allowing the CRA score to be tilted towards big community development projects such as loans to hospitals, universities, and other claimants and in favor of maintaining an emphasis on individual lending in lower income areas for home mortgages.  The OCC/FDIC plan would also allow banks to “buy” their way out of their obligations by claiming packages of loans in rural areas and to small businesses, even where they have no operations, rather than doing the hard work of upgrading the areas that need investment where they have operations and branches.  The OCC/FDIC plan would start with the dollar amount claimed by a bank as CRA eligible, rather than breaking the loans into the key baskets for evaluation that have been the sharpest teeth left in the Act over the last more than forty years grinding it down.

Looking at the acquisition of City National Bank (CNB) in Los Angeles by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is a good example of why the OCC/FDIC changes would be disastrous.  The CNB community reinvestment work had been lackluster prior to the merger discussions, and numerous groups didn’t hesitate to make that known to the Federal Reserve.  RBC finally prevailed in the acquisition largely by agreeing to make a $11 billion investment in CRA loans over a multi-year period that is now going into its final year.  ACORN requested the public file on CNB’s CRA work recently to see how they have fulfilled their commitment.  I’ll keep you out of the weeds, although we’ll invariably comeback to CNB and RBC in the future, but they are failing on their commitment pretty drastically, and with the clock running out, it’s hard to see how they would be able to pass muster without a miracle.  This is largely the case because from the numbers it appears that they have continued to not take loaning in lower income areas seriously.  They claim that they have made some big community development loans and they have purchased some community development loans.

CRA was about raising all boats in lower income neighborhoods, especially for families, and not just shoring up some remote islands to look over vast oceans of poverty starved for loans and investment.   Looking at the public file, CNB/RBC seems to be betting and believing that the OCC/FDIC proposal has already succeeded, and that there will be no consequences to their failure to live up to their loan commitment to low income families and their neighborhoods.

The OCC/FDIC proposal must be stopped or the failure of CNB/RBC will be the rule, not the exception, and once again lower income families will be left in the cold while banks preen and pretend to have served the purposes of their charters.

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Please enjoy Never Enough Money by Martha Wash.

Thanks to KABF.

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Process of Gutting the Community Reinvestment Act Gains Steam

Little Rock       Any time the head of the American Bankers Association says that it’s a good thing that any part of the government is looking at rewriting and revising the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, known popularly as the CRA, it’s very bad news for lower-income and racially diverse communities.  Sad, but true, that’s exactly the reality we’re facing now.  According to Payments.com, Rob Nichols, president of the American Bankers Association, said in a statement to Reuters that, “The current framework is holding back investment in communities the law is intended to serve, while failing to account for significant innovations in the banking sector, including the opportunities presented by mobile technologies.”

If that doesn’t sound like a pile of hooey, I’m not sure does.  Mobile technologies?  Trust me on this, there is nothing in the CRA that addresses what platform might be used to facilitate equal lending without discrimination on race, ethnicity or income bias, it just says you can’t do it, and if the Federal Reserve or if any of the regulatory agencies charged with policing the CRA catch you, then there’s trouble coming.  Reading Nichols’ statement Jane Citizen would think that the law in 1977 mandated that you had to be sitting on a leather chair in a branch bank – remember there used to be lots and lots of branch banks in the 70s – but that’s not the case.  So, much for the innovations point, and I can’t imagine what the ABA thinks is holding back investments “in communities the law is intended to serve” other than more conservative restrictions many banks imposed to punish our communities after their reckless greed imploded the real estate market, coming to a head in 2008.

The CRA is more than 40 years old and bankers and their political friends in Congress have been steadily pulling its teeth throughout that period.  The supposed “burden” of CRA is having to keep the records, which they do anyway for their own internal purposes, and, worse for them, transparently reporting the data on borrowers.  Then it is reviewed and compared locally, regionally, and nationally and discrimination is more easily determined by regulators, if they are interested, and they are graded so that consumers know where they are least likely to face discrimination when they apply for a loan.  How hard is that?  The rub for the bankers is that they are supervised, and when the regulators step up and do their job, there can be penalties.  Others want special breaks for so-called community banks to allow them to discriminate more broadly, but lord knows why anyone thinks that would be a good idea?

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has now put the process of rewriting or revising the CRA in motion by asking for public comment over the next 75 days.  The Federal Deposit Insurance Commission and the Federal Reserve also have critical roles in supervising banks and CRA implementation.  Some published reports indicate that there is less than total consensus between OCC, FDIC, and the Federal Reserve on this process, which, thankfully, has been slowing this gutting job to date.

Our best hope now is that if they stumble long enough and control of Congress changes, community organizations, advocates, and anyone who is committed to a more equitable America may once again prevail in saving not only the letter of the Community Reinvestment Act, but it’s spirit as well.

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