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Who’s best for banks?

Whether it’s President Clinton or President Trump, Wisconsin bankers just want some regulatory relief.

(page 1 of 3)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Watching the 2016 presidential race unfold over the past year has at times been an exercise in hilarity, unpredictability, or futility — and often all three at once.

With the once absurdly large field of candidates narrowed down to two, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump — apologies to Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, but it just ain’t happening — and the general election just a month away, it’s possible to start envisioning a world with either President Trump or President Clinton at the helm.

While one or both of those scenarios might terrify you and me, the banking industry in Wisconsin is taking a very typical approach to a very atypical campaign.

Notoriously conservative in their business practices, bankers in the Badger State sound confident when they say they should be able to work with whichever candidate wins. But even though Wisconsin bankers aren’t sounding the alarm over potential Clinton or Trump administrations, they are concerned that if the regulatory burden on banks isn’t addressed in the next four years it could have a significantly negative impact on banks and consumers.

“It’s only beneficial for consumers and the general public to have a fairly regulated banking industry and that’s not what is happening right now,” notes Rose Oswald Poels, president and CEO, Wisconsin Bankers Association. “That’s hurting the ability of borrowers to get money. It’s also important for there to be choices for consumers, and to the extent that regulations are in some cases causing banks to have to merge together, it’s very bad public policy.”

Pick your partner

Although Wisconsin bankers are historically a conservative bunch, that has more to do with how they run their business than how they vote or which elected officials they work with.

That conservatism was actually beneficial to the state’s banking industry at the start of the Great Recession. Because Wisconsin bankers aren’t typically big gamblers, the state’s banks didn’t suffer the same precipitous fall as Wall Street investment banks. However, that didn’t prevent Wisconsin banks from being lumped together with their Wall Street brethren in the nearly universal backlash against the financial industry.

Oswald Poels says the WBA has had to work diligently to undo the damage caused by that association, work made more difficult when candidates from both major parties made disparaging comments about the financial industry during the primary debates.

“During a lot of the debates when they were winnowing the field down on both the Democratic and Republican sides, candidates were often asked questions that either directly or indirectly related to the banking industry,” says Oswald Poels. “At the end of the day the comments back from the candidates answering those questions were really very negative gross generalizations about the industry — and in some cases were factually wrong.”

According to Oswald Poels, WBA staff and members have spent time over the past six to eight months trying to work with the staffs of various candidates who are sharing those comments or opinions to educate them on the banking industry and the value of banks in the communities they serve.

“And also how traditional banks in Wisconsin are very different from investment firms on Wall Street,” Oswald Poels adds.

“This election is unique in so many ways,” notes Jim Tubbs, president and CEO, State Bank of Cross Plains. “The long path to the national conventions for both parties was full of twists, turns, and surprises. I am expecting more of the same up until Election Day. It is very difficult to decide which candidate is going to be ultimately better for the banking industry. Both have spoken about our industry but certainly have not made it a strong topic in their platforms.”

Oswald Poels states WBA is not taking a specific position regarding either Clinton or Trump, and will not endorse either candidate. “The banking industry really does try to work with both sides of the aisle to advance our interests because we don’t really believe that banks, which are one of the key underpinnings to economic growth, are partisan.”

To that end, Oswald Poels says Wisconsin bankers are ready and willing to work with whichever candidate gets elected.

“It’s very difficult to proclaim which candidate would be best for the industry,” says Tubbs. “What would be best for our industry is to have a president and a Congress that truly sees the regulatory burden that is plaguing this industry and [are willing to] act in concert to get some reform.”


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