National Bank of Washington has centralized its credit-approval procedures in an effort to be "more selective" about granting loans, according to Dale Jernberg, the bank's president and chief executive.
In an interview, Jernberg said that NBW, the city's third-largest bank, has adopted a "much more stringent" approach to the approval of consumer and personal loans. Until recently, branch officers at NBW were authorized to approve such consumer loans, but Jernberg said loan approvals now are assigned to a "small group of top officers."
"We do not want to have the reputation of being unresponsive to legitimate credit needs of customers or prosepctive customers," said Jernberg. "But we're more selective today than at any time in the past."
Jernberg said the policy shift was a product of both the Carter administration's efforts to limit borrowing and the desire of the bank's management to scrutinize loan applications more carefully.
NBW also has become "more conservative or careful" about loans to directors in light of recent financial problems faced by NBW board members.
A former director, Bruce Lyons, of the Holland and Lyons real estate firm, and a current director, John Lyon, owe the bank close to $7 million in loans, and the bank management said in a recent proxy statement that it cannot assess repayment of those funds properly. r
"When you have business men on your board, you have them to assist in the development of business," Jernberg said. "If a director has financial difficulties, unless those difficulties seem insurmountable, we should not walk away from that director."
Jernberg insisted that NBW's policies involving director's loans are "not that different from any other bank." But he said he had discussed those loans with officials of the Comptroller of the Currency's Office.
"The regulators say these are business judgments which the bank has to make," Jernberg said. "They won't take any position as to any action the bank should take."
Noting that federal law requires disclosure of these loans to stockholders and approval from members of the bank's board, Jernberg said the "fallout of publicity about directors' loans makes us all the more conservative or careful."
By most accounts, Jernberg has been a careful chief executive at NBW, and his apparent uneasiness in talking with a reporter reflects his banker's background and the controversies that have surrounded NBW and its management over the last 10 years.
The loan-tightening procedures and the formation of a senior management committee at NBW composed of Jernberg, three executive and three senior vice presidents are among the few major changes he has brought to NBW since being named president of the bank in December 1978.
Jernberg appears to have solidified his position as the bank's chief executive, even though NBW has been operating without a chairman since Joseph Danzansky died last November. Jernberg said the bank has "taken no steps at this point to name a new chairman."
Although Jernberg said it was a "real plus" to have Mr. Danzansky as the board's chairman for 11 months, he said that Mr. Danzansky, the former chief executive of Giant Food Inc., had a "relatively restricted role" at NBW and was "not included in the management of the bank per se."
The bank's previous management team left between December 1978 and December 1979. Donald Notman, who had been chairman, resigned suddenly in 1978, and a year later Walton (Hank) Sanderson resigned amid considerable speculation.
District banking officials say the personnel shifts were largely a result of philosophical differences between the two and board members. Sanderson left the bank because of apparent differences with the United Mine Workers, which owns about 76 percent of the bank's stock.
Jernberg diplomatically calls their departures "amicable" and a "good parting" on both sides. "It is probably healthy to have turn-over in management every few years," Jernberg said. Notman became the bank's chief executive in 1973, replacing True Davis, and each regime has added a new emphasis to NBW's growth strategy, Jernberg said.
"Prior to 1971, this was a very, very conservative bank," he said. The "loans-to-deposits [ratio was] very low. Management recognized that there were deposits in large amounts and that if something occurred, those deposits had to leave the bank. So they had to stay liquid."
Those deposits are funds connected with the union and its members. The bank faced a $72 million lawsuit 10 years ago from miners who alleged that NBW and the union conspired to bilk them of funds.
As a result of a judgment in that suit, NBW lost $70 million in deposits and reported a $3 million loss after taxes as a result. "That was a bad time for the bank, but we've more than recovered from it," said Jernberg, who has been with NBW since 1957.
Jernberg said he made an extra effort to "remain very close with union officials so they know what is happening at the bank." If anything insignificant changes, "We don't want them to be surprised," he said.
The volatile UMW is "under very strong leadership now," and the union president, Sam Church, an NBW board member, has brought the union's management into a more "viable form," Jernberg said. Turbulence in the union has an inevitable "spillover on the bank," he noted. "whether we like it or not, we are a major investment of theirs."
According to Jernberg, the Notman-Sanderson team "began to concentrate very heavily on commercial and corporate-type accounts," while at the same time maintaining, without major advertising, its share of the consumer market. "We are trying to give each facet of our bank equal emphasis now," he said.
"The record of the bank speaks for itself," he said, noting that bank profits have risen by about 15 percent annually since the mid-1970s.