As Governor-elect Jay Inslee puts his administration's leadership team in place over the coming weeks, the state's community bankers hope to persuade him to retain the man who oversaw the state's regulation of financial institutions during their unprecedented turmoil.
If Inslee asks outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire about Scott Jarvis, whom she appointed director of the State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) at the outset of her tenure in March of 1985, she'd undoubtedly give an unqualified endorsement.
Brad Tower, president and executive director of the Community Bankers of Washington (CBW) will be suggesting to his members that they urge Jarvis' reappointment. The state-chartered community banks around the state may represent the most economically important sector of industries that fall under Jarvis' oversight.
Part of what Inslee must weigh is the fact that Jarvis, during an almost unprecedentedly challenging time for banks, credit unions and other financial companies, created a firm but caring state regulatory environment. What he created was important not just to the industry he oversaw but also to the economy of the state.
The state's banks and savings and loans were awash in profits when Gregoire plucked James (Scott) Jarvis from the office of the state insurance commissioner, where he was Deputy Commissioner for Consumer Protection, to head the agency that oversees all financial-transaction businesses.
It wasn't long into his tenure that Jarvis, an attorney, came to realize that what he recalls as "extremely high concentrations of lending in land acquisition and real estate development was going to be a problem for community banks if the economy took a turn for the worse."
But he was frustrated by the fact that, as he puts it, "there were no tools in the regulator's tool box to impose enforceable concentration limits nor to compel a profitable and healthy institution to reduce its exposure to a line of lending."
Thus as Jarvis came to know personally many of the bankers who ran institutions he regulated, "I knew who among them was struggling and whose banks, absent infusions of hard-to-come-by capital or an acquisition, would not survive."
"To watch these decent individuals keep a stiff upper lip and act as if all was well when they were among their peers and competitors was difficult," he said, in a comment bespeaking a regulator with a human side. "And it became all the more difficult as time for failure drew near." In the end, 17 state-chartered banks failed.
"I believe that over the last seven years, the environment he has created and people he has surrounded himself with has been one of the greatest assets for community banking in our state, and actually nationally," said CBW executive Tower in a telephone interview.
"While he has been a tough regulator, he's been fair and supportive and has been willing to push back on federal regulators when they were failing to be sensitive to local conditions," noted Tower, whose CBW is viewed as the pre-eminent voice of the state's 60 independent community banks. "Scott has been directly involved in slowing the knee-jerk reaction of the feds to close first and ask questions later."
That ability to work with federal regulators stems in part, likely, from Jarvis' role as legislative committee chair for the national organization of state regulators, where one of his duties is to coordinate the legislative positions of the organization at the federal level.
Pat Fahey, one of the state's most respected bank CEOs, recalls that as he sought to turn around failing Frontier Bank, "Scott was very supportive, even meeting with the governor to see how she might get involved, in seeking to convince the feds to accept a deal we had put together to save the bank."
In the end, fed ineptitude caused investors who sought to put together a deal with Fahey that would have saved Frontier Bank and its parent Frontier Financial Corp. to back away and the bank was shuttered and its assets sold to California's Union Bank.
Fahey is now at the helm of First Sound Bank as chairman, president and CEO seeking to turn it around.
Patrick Patrick, like Fahey, a turnaround banker now involved in bringing back Seattle Bank, where he is CEO, says Jarvis "was the man the state needed in a very difficult time for Washington. He represented the interests of the regulatory system as well as the communities whose banks he oversaw."
Patrick credits Jarvis with "making certain, where possible, that people who had given back to their communities had a chance to continue to do so with their banks."
It's interesting, as well as telling, that Jarvis views his role as DFI director to be fostering policies that not only provide a healthy and predictable regulatory environment, but also promote economic vitality. It's clear he understands that what his agency website describes as "a fair and dynamic lending environment that results from viable state-chartered banks and credit unions" is important to capital formation for small business.
Jarvis' agency, in addition to regulating state chartered banks and credit unions, also regulates a variety of non-bank financial services providers, including mortgage lenders and payday lenders, as well as our state's securities industry.
Tellingly, CBW's Tower notes that "The FDIC has ramped up hiring and paid outrageous amounts to get good people. Scott can't pay market rates for his people so the only way he can keep good people is to create a good working, even a mentorship, environment."
Looking down the road for the industry he's come to understand as well as anyone, Jarvis thinks that as the economy improves "we can expect to see entrepreneurs looking to the state bank charter as the vehicle to create and grow new local community banks."
But he adds that for now, "and perhaps a bit beyond, consolidation remains the more likely path as the economic environment strives to sort itself out and attractive returns on investment remain challenging."
"Though not in the numbers seen in the past, well capitalized proposals, with strong management and sound business plans, will have a place in the Washington community banking environment in the years ahead and should receive federal approval," Jarvis said.
In addition, Jarvis notes, "a number of Washington institutions have recently switched from a federal to a state charter and several more are giving serious consideration to doing so."
"I would like to think that our efforts to be perceived as a fair, competent and knowledgeable regulator and our performance during these almost unprecedented times has something to do with that," he added.