Outreach and accountability are big priorities for Governor Scott Walker. Not long ago, the Governor demonstrated his personal commitment to outreach by holding listening sessions in all 72 of the state’s counties. The Governor also demands accountability from his administration; his cabinet agencies have set and are expected to meet various performance metrics and efficiency goals (you can find DFI’s at https://performance.wi.gov/DFI.html).
Shortly after the Governor appointed me Secretary of the Department of Financial Institutions in March 2017, I decided to embark upon an outreach and accountability project of my own. I committed to reaching out to the president/CEO of every state-chartered bank. I hopped in my car and had in-person meetings with bankers in Kenosha, La Crosse, Green Bay, Superior and points in between. I had phone conversations long and short. If I got someone’s voicemail, I left my direct call-back number. I am pleased to report that as of November 15, I have now met with, spoken to or left a message for 180 bank leaders.
When I asked you to tell me about your last interaction with DFI, here’s what I heard. Overall, you are generally pleased with the Division of Banking. You said our state examiners are not in the “gotcha” business when they find something that needs correcting. While I am fully aware that financial institutions don’t exactly look forward to safety and soundness exams, you think you are getting some value out of it. Some of you singled out specific examiners for being professional, reasonable and thorough. Other adjectives I heard included helpful, consultative and responsive. In the rare instances where you had some constructive criticism for us, we followed up on it.
When I asked you to describe local economic conditions, you told me about strong demand for housing and rising wages. Loan demand ranged from “OK” to “the best it’s been in 10 years.” I was not surprised to hear these bullish reports because Wisconsin banks are in great shape. Lending and income are up. Net worth and credit quality are solid.
Your overall outlook was quite positive, but you also shared your challenges with me too: skinnier margins, industry consolidation, competition from other financial institutions, finding qualified employees, aging populations, IT costs, low commodities prices, and over-regulation from Washington.
And I enjoyed sharing with you all the good things happening under the Governor’s leadership – another property tax cut, an improved state bond rating, budget surpluses, unemployment at all-time lows, and historic new investments in K-12 education, workforce training and rural broadband. Wisconsin’s future is bright.
I don’t think people hear the word “thanks” enough. So thanks for being there to meet the banking needs of your community. Thanks for lending to small businesses. Thanks for sponsoring the local Little League team. Thanks for your efforts to improve the financial literacy of your customers and communities. In order for the Wisconsin economy to continue to thrive in the future, strong state financial institutions are a crucial part of the equation.
Jay Risch is Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.