WBA is pleased to announce that our new vice president – legal is someone many of you are already familiar with, Heather MacKinnon. Heather was most recently the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions' Administrator for the Division of Banking. Prior to that role, she held the position of Chief Legal Counsel for DFI. Heather’s knowledge of the banking industry and experience earned with the WBA and our state regulatory agency makes her a valuable resource for members like yourself. 

Below is an edited Q&A with Heather conducted shortly after her first day back at the association (March 3).

DFI hired you as their Chief Legal Counsel. Can you explain what that entailed?
As Chief Legal Counsel I was the lead attorney for the Department and provided advice and guidance on all legal matters pertaining to DFI. That meant I acted as a subject matter expert to the Secretary’s Office and Department Administrators in all areas of law related to DFI, including banking law, securities law, credit union law, Wisconsin Consumer Act, mortgage banking and licensed financial services, business filings, Uniform Commercial Code filings, trademarks, and notarial acts, just to name a few.

I also helped to draft DFI-related legislation for all areas of the Department and assisted the Assistant Deputy Secretary with advancing legislation. Examples include 2017 WI Act 340 which made several changes to laws applicable to financial institutions. 2017 WI Act 161 regarding guaranteed asset protection products (including GAP Plus) sold in connection with credit sales, loans, and consumer leases. 2017 WI Act 162 which broadened the ability of foreign trust companies to act as personal representatives or trustees in Wisconsin.

There was a federal component to my responsibilities as I also monitored federal regulations and court cases to determine its impact.

You were subsequently promoted to Administrator for the Division of Banking. What was your experience in that role?
As Banking Administrator, I lead and managed DFI’s Division of Banking and Licensed Financial Services Bureau, including five supervisors, 24 bank examiners, 14 licensed financial services examiners, and two support staff personnel.

During my tenure, we examined 145 commercial banks, four trust companies, 12 savings banks, and two savings associations. We also reviewed applications for mergers and acquisitions, branches, and loan production offices.

In this role, I continued to assist with the drafting and review of legislation and assisted the Assistant Deputy Administrator with advancing legislation.

On the national level, DFI is a member of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS). Personally, I was a member of the CSBS’ SRR Lawyer Committee which provided answers to CSBS’s policy committee regarding various areas of law, including matters related to CSBS’ NMLS licensing and registration system.

What was your biggest takeaway from DFI that you want to share with WBA members?
Just as the WBA membership has dedicated bankers within the industry, DFI has many examiners, supervisors and agency staff just as dedicated to the financial industry – only from a different vantage point. There are numerous folks within the Department and Division of Banking who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to the financial industry to help ensure financial institutions run in a safe and sound manner and that licensees meet all Wisconsin statute requirements. On the other end of tenure, DFI has great new examiners (both brand new and within 5-8 years of their examiner jobs) who do a great job and have learned well from examiners with decades of experience.

DFI Banking Division staff have a strong desire to help protect consumers – whether it be from bait and switch loan or mortgage practices, deceptive marketing tactics, or premature repossession under the Wisconsin Consumer Act. Other DFI divisions of the department share similar concerns in their respective areas.

Also, examiners are more than willing to discuss examination findings and explain their rationale. They don’t have a “gotcha” motivation. Their sole focus is to identify areas of risk or concern to help the financial institution steer away from risk pitfalls. The examination team is merely an independent third party meant to review the actions and decisions to help determine whether a corrective course needs to be taken. The examination teams understand the close relationships bankers have with their customer banks, particularly on the lending side, and know that at times a banker may be too close to a relationship to spot risk through those neutral eyes, or may be too close to see a worrisome trend.

DFI Division of Banking shares concerns over industry consolidation and very much values the role of the state charter. The Division is engaged to find licensing efficiencies and to remain principle licensing authority for non-traditional deposit and loan product/service providers.

What's most exciting to you about returning to the WBA?
First, I wish to state I was greatly honored to have had the opportunity to work with the folks at DFI and for Wisconsin’s consumer. I’m proud of the work we accomplished during my time with DFI. My experiences at DFI have greatly enhanced my existing industry knowledge base, my perspective, and my professional experiences.

That said, I am very excited about returning to the WBA and continuing efforts to advocate on behalf of Wisconsin’s banks. While at DFI, part of my job was to help identify areas of concern and improvement for those DFI regulated. How to solve the identified concerns was the role for other professionals and experts. I prefer to be on the side where we find the solutions and I very strongly believe that’s the role of WBA. We help members to find solutions. Personally, I’m looking forward to rejoining WBA’s teaching faculty, helping answer questions through the Legal Call program, and advancing our advocacy efforts.

I’m also excited about the changes to the WBA offices, especially the new Engagement Center! The opportunities to serve and interact with our membership because of the new facilities is one of the things I’m most looking forward to.