If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
Wriston, Walter B.
The Big Rip-off
Do you feel the cost of regulating domestic banks outweighs the benefits?
It depends what you perceive the benefits to be. The banking system is losing more of its share of the financial market every sunrise. In 1946 we had 57 percent of the financial assets in the United States. Today we have 39 percent.
Of every seven credit cards outstanding in the country only one was issued by a bank.
So, the amount of regulation that's put against the banking system is disproportionate to the amount of business we're doing.
All you have to do is read a financial paper to see that General Electric Credit, or General Motors Acceptance, or Itel Leasing, or Sears, Roebuck or whoever is in our marketplace. Banks are losing ground because they're unable to compete effectively. For example, Sears, Roebuck has 26 million credit cards outstanding and there are 72 million families in America. So Sears has an account from one family out of every three. They own the largest savings and loan association in the country. They've got $9 billion in interest-paying accounts receivables.
Meanwhile, the regulators are arguing about whether a computer terminal is a bank.
I believe that most of the banking laws are now obsolete. They've been made obsolete by our competition and by modern technology. So, it's time to take a fresh look at the whole situation.
For example, we could not have bought the Marine Midland Bank, which had a rather bad year awhile back. That would have been illegal. Yet, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank can buy it. It doesn't make any sense. There is a bank in Pennsylvania that's not in too good a shape. The Mellon Bank would like to buy it and save the community, but they're prohibited by regulation from doing it. Maybe it'll be sold to a foreign bank. Yes, I think it's definitely time to take another look at the whole regulatory process and do a little cost-benefit analysis.
What's the first change you'd like to see?
The biggest rip-off the consumer has ever had is called Regulation Q, which means if you're poor, you earn 5 percent interest on your savings, and if you're rich you get 12 percent. Where are the consumer advocates? It's just incredible to me that this has been allowed to go on for years and years. There are a lot more savers in this country than borrowers, which is fine or we'd all be in trouble, and I think every saver is entitled to the best rate in the market, whether he's got a buck or a million bucks.