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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fed Up: A Texas Bank Is Calling It Quits

“…Regulators have gone one step too far and are choking off lending,…"


Main Street Bank lends most of its money to small businesses and is earning decent profits. But the Kingwood, Texas, bank is about to get out of the banking business.

In an extreme example of the frustration felt by many bankers as regulators toughen their oversight of the nation's financial institutions, Main Street's chairman, Thomas Depping, is expected to announce Wednesday that the 27-year-old bank will surrender its banking charter and sell its four branches to a nearby bank.


Michael Stravato for The Wall Street Journal

Texas turnaround: Thomas Depping, chairman of Main Street Bank, plans to give up the bank's charter.

Mr. Depping plans to set up a new lender that will operate beyond the reach of banking regulators—and the deposit-insurance safety net. Backed by the private investment firm of Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, the company won't be able to call itself a bank, but it will be able to do business the way Mr. Depping wants.

"The regulatory environment makes it very difficult to do what we do," says Mr. Depping, who last summer saw his bank hit with an enforcement order from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

A spokesman for the FDIC declined to comment on Main Street, a unit of closely held MS Financial Inc. Dan Frasier, director of corporate activities for the Texas Department of Banking, confirmed that Main Street is "working on the process of moving out of the state banking system," but declined to provide details.

Bankers have long complained about their overseers, but it is rare for a bank to basically close its doors aside from an acquisition or failure. Mr. Depping blames the move on a tightening regulatory noose.

Regulators came under fire in the financial crisis for lax oversight that allowed financial institutions to dole out too much credit to unworthy borrowers. Some bank executives now complain that federal and state agencies have swung to the other extreme, poring over minute details of virtually every loan, including those to small businesses.

"The No. 1 complaint that we hear from community bankers is that they feel that regulators have gone one step too far and are choking off lending,"

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