Maryland bankers have found a way to oppose a key industry bill without appearing to be obstructionists. They're saying both yes and no to a proposal that would allow full interstate banking in the state.
The bill, proposed by Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, would permit any out-of-state bank to enter Maryland if the institution's home state grants Maryland banks the same privilege under reciprocal agreements.
A reciprocal interstate banking law passed by the General Assembly in 1985 limits entry into the Maryland banking market to financial institutions from the District and 14 middle Atlantic and southeastern states. Maryland bankers are willing to support a change in the current interstate banking law only if the effective date is delayed until 1991, and not July 1, 1988, as Taylor suggests.
To say that the slight shift in the industry's position is a sign of progress would be stretching the truth, but that's more than Maryland bankers were willing to concede just two months ago.
Still, the "progressive view," acknowledged by Maryland bankers in published reports last week, has changed little since the debate preceding passage of the 1985 law. The argument against full interstate banking then -- a legitimate one, indeed -- was that Maryland banks needed time to consolidate and strengthen their positions in the market before being forced to compete against larger national banks. After nearly two years in which most of that has been accomplished, the arguments being made by Maryland bankers remain pretty much the same.
However, the development of a stronger banking industry in Maryland since passage of the limited interstate banking law two years ago refutes the argument that a delay until 1991 is necessary. Taylor's assertion last fall that interstate banking has strengthened Maryland's economy is supported by several studies of the state's banking industry and the economy in general.
One study shows that assets held by the 22 largest bank companies in the Washington-Baltimore region increased $59 billion in the pastInterstate banking legislation has "undoubtedly resulted in a profound and positive impact on the growth of financial institutions." -- P. Wesley Foster two years. The study, issued last month by the Washington-Baltimore Regional Association, an alliance of business leaders in the region, shows Maryland's leading bank companies had substantial gains in assets and deposits during the two-year period.
Interstate banking legislation has "undoubtedly resulted in a profound and positive impact on the growth of financial institutions" in the region, P. Wesley Foster, the association's president, said in a statement accompanying the study.
Maryland officials also have cited the impact of interstate banking as a major contributor to the high ratings given the state's banks in a recent study by IDC Financial Publishing of Wisconsin. The study, which was based on an analysis of banks' financial strength in the second quarter of 1987, put Maryland in the "excellent" category.
Favorable economic conditions in the state and the continued improvement of its banks are strong arguments for beginning the next phase of interstate banking in Maryland. What's more, the big bogeyman that local bankers spotted in every money-center bank is hardly a threat these days. Taylor's perceptive comment a few months ago on the fear that small banks in the state would be swallowed up by big national bank companies is worth repeating. "If we hadn't already let in two of the Broadway monsters," he said, referring to New York's Citicorp and Chase Manhattan Corp., "it would be a different thing."
Citicorp, Chase and Pittsburgh's Mellon Bank were given special permission to operate banks in Maryland after agreeing to buy troubled thrifts or make specific investments in the state.
Most experts agree that many of the major banks outside the region are less inclined today to undertake acquisitions in areas far removed from their primary markets. Earnings problems and shaky foreign loans have forced money-center banks to lower their sights for now.
Moreover, the collapse of the stock market in October has increased uncertainty about the national economy, causing many banks to reassess their expansion plans.
Realistically then, a national reciprocal banking law in Maryland can only strengthen the state's position in the shift of banking power to so-called super regional bank companies in the Southeast.
Given the rapid restructuring that is occurring in the banking industry, it's possible that by delaying the process until 1991, Maryland could very well miss a window of opportunity that won't be available then.