Volcker Rule splits regional banks from Wall Street

‘Vast Difference’

Ruebel said in an interview that the bank is looking to 2013, when a new Congress might revisit parts of Dodd-Frank. “If there are any decisions that different pieces of Dodd-Frank need a look, we want to be there,” he said.

Jaret Seiberg, a senior policy analyst with Washington Research Group, a unit of Guggenheim Securities, said the banks are in a separate class because they mobilize savings for productive use by turning retail deposits into commercial loans.

“There’s a vast difference between a $100 billion regional bank and JPMorgan,” Seiberg said. “Congress views the institutions differently. The regulators view them differently. So it makes all the sense in the world that they would want to be represented differently. They should have done it five years ago.”

While regional banks hired outside lobbyists in Washington before Dodd-Frank, none had their own offices with full-time representatives, except for Capital One Financial Corp., which is based in nearby McLean, Virginia.

Birmingham Commute

Regions, for example, sometimes flew Chris Scribner, an executive at its Birmingham headquarters, to Washington to tend to federal policy. Now Scribner works in the nation’s capital under Brian Smith, a former lobbyist for government-backed mortgage company Freddie Mac.

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp lured Kevin MacMillan, a former Treasury Department legislative affairs official, from Bank of America Corp. BB&T Corp. of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, tapped John Hardage, previously a congressional liaison at the Office of Comptroller of the Currency. PNC hired Vince Randazzo, who worked for the House Financial Services Committee.

“There was this view on the Hill that you were either a small community bank or a mega-bank,” Smith, of Regions, said in an interview. “We felt like the middle child.”

Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who was then head of the House Financial Services Committee, said that was basically true during the debate on the law. “I don’t remember hearing from them at all,” Frank said in an interview. “And it would have mattered.”

Dodd-Frank Threshold

Despite the new lobbying firepower, the regional banks have limited room for change when it comes to Dodd-Frank rules. The law specifies that institutions with more than $50 billion in assets are subject to the most stringent requirements, a threshold exceeded by most of the firms.

What the regional firms can do is ask regulators to account for differences among banks when they write the details. For example, agencies are now completing the rule that requires companies designated as systemically important to draw up “living wills,” blueprints for how they could be dismantled in an orderly way if they neared insolvency.

Lawmakers included the rule in Dodd-Frank to avoid repeating the dilemma of the 2008 credit crisis: to pay for a bailout for a failing firm, like the government did for American International Group Inc., or let it collapse, as regulators decided in the case of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

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