National Bank of Washington Chairman Luther Hodges Jr. warned yesterday that consumers will have to learn to live with higher interest rates in the same way they have adjusted to stiffer energy costs.
Predicting interest rates of 12 percent to 15 percent "will become standard for almost every type of transaction," Hodges told NBW stockholders that higher rates are one of the factors that will change the banking business radically.
Speeding up deregulation of banking would help ease the adjustment to changes in the business, but Congress is providing little leadership in that area, he complained.
Hodges gave an unusually broad overview of the future of banking at the annual meeting of shareholders of NBW, which is controlled by the United Mine Workers of America.
Brought in as chief executive 18 months ago to mop up after scandals involving questionable loans to bank insiders and their associates, Hodges said little about the bank's past problems, instead stressing the difficulties ahead.
He said NBW will seek to increase its share of the Washington banking market this year with an aggressive new consumer marketing program launched this week and by modernizing its system of automatic teller machines and joining a multiple-bank money-machine network.
Hodges predicted there will be no immediate improvement in either the local or national economy and no quick decline in interest rates.
"I happen to believe that interest rates in the period ahead will be less than those witnessed in 1981--although clearly higher than those we have traditionally enjoyed," he said.
"Interest rates are not unlike energy prices," he explained. "Prices of both energy and money are at new levels, reflecting the economic realities of today. We have finally become accustomed to high energy prices, but it has taken some eight to 10 years of quite painful adjustment to do so. By the same token, we will have to make a similar adjustment to higher interest rates.
"My concern is that while we successfuly adjusted over time to a new energy environment, we are being asked to adjust to the new interest-rate scenario in some 24 months. This could be more than we are prepared to handle."
Not only consumers, but bankers themselves will have trouble adjusting to changes in financial markets, Hodges said, warnng that competition will make it harder for banks to make money and will lead to the death of some banks.
"Regulations have previously served to protect the banking industry and to guarantee a profit for all or certainly most institutions," Hodges said. "It's easy to see why many bankers would prefer not to have deregulation of interest rates or deregulation of protected markets."
Hodges said deregulation and higher rates add up to serious questions about whether the county can keep--or needs to keep--its present network of 14,000 banks, 5,000 savings and loans and 21,500 credit unions.