Top federal bank regulators said today that banking abuses which came to light in the investigation of former budget director Bert Lance - such as large overdrafts to bank officers - do not appear to be widespread in the industry.
They told members of the American Bankers Association meeting here that a massive federal fact finding effort is necessary to pinpoint the extent of overdrafts, insider dealings, and misuses of correspondent banking relationships. Lance was accused of all these activities at one time or another while he headed two Georgia banks.
Many bankers are upset with an extensive federal questionaire designed to collect that informations, now being circulated to the nation's 14,000 banks by the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. They said they need such factual information before they can make any recommendations to a Congress that appears anxious to write new legislation governing actions by bank officers and directors.
Stephen G. Gardner, a Federal reserve Board governor who had been in banking for 25 years said that the size of the overdrafts that Lance and members of his family maintained at the Calhoun First National Bank were a "shock to me."
George A. LeMaistre, chairman of the FDIC, said that neither large overdrafts nor use by a bank's officer of his institution's correspondent relationship to obtain a personal loan appears to be widespread, but said the massive survey will show just what the situation is.
Gardner took an apparent swipe at Lance, who in his defense had often claimed that practices such as large overdrafts were in fact good banking practices that were engaged in by many or most banks. Gardner said that when the survey results are in it will be shown that a questionable banking practice that is common in one state will not be engaged in by bankers in the rest of the country.
The spector of the Lance affair - which has triggered strong Congressional pressures to write new banking legislation - hangs heavy over the normally placid annual convention of the ABA. It is compounded by the association's and Lance's decision that Lance would keep a speaking invitation offered while he was still director of the Office of Management and Budget.
The New Jersey Bankers Association has said it plans to boycott the Tuesday morning Lance address and several other groups are reportedly upset over the Lance talk. One banker said that he resents Lance's statements that big overdrafts and other practices are widespread in the industry. He said by giving Lance a forum it appears the bankers endorse his statements.
Most bankers, however, seem willing to listen to the former head of the National Bank of Georgia and the Calhoun First National Bank. George D. Norton, the executive vice president of the Philadelphia National Bank, said that while he disagrees with Lance's contention that the practices are widespread, it is "probably appropriate for Lance to explain his actions" to his fellow bankers.
A. A. Milligan, president-elect of the ABA, said that while there had been other protests besides those from the New Jersey bankers, the protests were scattered.
Lance will not receive an honorarium for the speech. ABA, officials said that it is the association's policy to pick up any expenses incurred by a speaker but said they have not talked about expenses with Lance.
Milligan, who is president of the $154.9 million Bank of A. Levy in Oxnard, Calif., acknowledged to reporters that the association is considering some form of internal ethics board, a reaction to the intense study that banking ethics has received in the wake of the Lance investigation. Milligan insisted, however, that the banking industry operates at a higher ethical level than other industries.