A face familiar to the Wisconsin Bankers Association is now head of the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), the state agency that—among other responsibilities—regulates state-chartered banks. On March 6, Jay Risch was appointed DFI Secretary by Governor Scott Walker. Risch is the seventh person to lead the agency, which was created in 1996. He succeeds Lon Roberts, who was named to the Public Service Commission.

Risch, of course, is well-known within the WBA, having served as the organization's Director of Government Relations from 2010 until February 2015. He then served as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) before joining DFI in the same capacity in July 2015. Prior to his stint with WBA, Risch was a policy adviser to Governor Scott McCallum and served on the staffs of State Senators Cathy Stepp and Alberta Darling.

Wisconsin Banker reached out to the Oconomowoc native to ask his views on a variety of topics that are important to the WBA.

When you first started with DFI in your role as Deputy Secretary, what was the most eye-opening revelation for you? Did you have any preconceptions that were corrected?

Based on my time at DSPS and since joining DFI, I have been very impressed with the dedication shown by employees of the two agencies. There is a strong focus on customer service and a commitment to making government more efficient and accountable. We are constantly searching for ways to improve the services we offer and streamline the processes through which our customers interact with us. For example, the Division of Banking last year implemented a post-exam review process through which bank CEOs are given the opportunity to give us candid feedback on the exam experience. To date, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. In those few cases when concerns were raised, Banking Administrator Cheryll Olson-Collins has personally contacted the banker to gain more insight and has taken remedial actions when necessary to address the issues that were identified.

What are the biggest challenges you see on the horizon for DFI?

I don't see any major challenges on the horizon for DFI. Rather, I see opportunities for the Department to continue to improve the service that we provide to our stakeholders, while at the same time fulfilling our over-arching responsibility to ensure the safety and soundness of our financial institutions and protect consumers. The two are not mutually exclusive. We also intend to continue to upgrade our IT infrastructure to keep pace with the needs of our stakeholders.

What are the biggest challenges you see for banks in the state?

I know many bankers continue to view competition and cybersecurity threats as two ongoing, significant challenges. Federal regulation is also a concern, but there is tangible optimism that community banks could see some real regulatory relief from Washington over the next couple of years. DFI will continue to do its part to make sure the voices of Wisconsin bankers are heard loud and clear in our interaction with federal regulators and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.

What can DFI and banks do to address those challenges?

Certainly, ensuring safety and soundness of banks is a primary focus for DFI. But there is also ample opportunity to join with our stakeholder groups on issues of mutual interest. DFI's collaborative efforts with WBA are a good example of this. In the past year alone, members of our Division of Banking leadership team have served on panel discussions for WBA-sponsored workshops, our two organizations co-sponsored a cybersecurity summit, and we have worked together to promote financial literacy. You can expect efforts of that sort to continue on my watch.

What are your goals for DFI both short- and long- term?

I want DFI to provide consistency, predictability and stability for our stakeholders. To accomplish that, we need to remain focused on the fundamentals of customer service. For banks, that includes conducting safety and soundness exams in a timely manner and providing feedback that bankers find useful and actionable. Many of DFI's examiners have private-sector banking experience, so they understand the relationship from both sides of the table. Ever since I joined DFI, I've asked many bankers to tell me about DFI's most recent visit to their institution. I have consistently heard words such as "professional," "thorough," and "consultative." That's nice to hear, because we make every effort not to be in the "gotcha" business.

Having worked at WBA, do you feel you have a unique perspective on the role DFI plays within the banking industry?

Yes. During my time with WBA, I certainly learned a lot about how bankers view their relationships with regulators. DFI and bankers share a common goal: We both want to see the banking industry proposer in Wisconsin. The presence of healthy, profitable community banks is very important to the economy at the local and state levels. In many respects, those banks are the financial backbone of the communities they serve.

Look into your crystal ball and tell us what you see.

I'm optimistic about the future of the banking industry. Wisconsin banks have been consistently posting solid year-over-year growth. The state's economy is strong and getting stronger thanks to many of the reforms enacted by Governor Walker. I encourage bankers to remain optimistic, too. Despite industry challenges, kids will want to open up their first savings account, teens will be looking to buy their first car, newlyweds will be hoping to buy a home, entrepreneurs will be itching to start a business, and mature adults will be planning for retirement. Strong banks can help make those dreams come true.