Raul Montes is not your mother's bank examiner. And neither is Nancee Kale.
For the first time in seven years, the Office of Thrift Supervision has gone on a bank-examiner hiring spree, and the new recruits will change more than the size of the OTS corps of green-eyeshaders.
Montes and Kale are among about 45 recruits bringing fresh blood, diversity and a set of new technical skills that are needed to regulate the nation's 1,129 thrifts, with $817 billion in assets. Though the savings and loan industry has been shrinking since the S&L crisis and bailout in the 1980s, the rate of demise has slowed and banks still in the industry are more complex.
For example, there now are institutions that are part of huge, diversified financial companies. Some are Internet banks. Others have plunged into lending that is far riskier than writing home mortgage loans.
"A work force gets really stale if there's no new blood, and that's extremely dangerous in a dynamic industry," said Ellen Seidman, director of the OTS. Among the new examiners, 36 percent are minorities and 29 percent are women.
The OTS, which was established in 1989 as a result of a reorganization of the thrift regulatory structure, had a pretty typical examiner work force until this round of hiring. Many of the examiners who were associated with the old Federal Home Loan Bank System came from the military or had worked at banks before becoming regulators.
Many of the examiners now being hired by the OTS are at the beginning of second careers, though they may have experience in auditing or accounting. There are grandmothers among them, a substitute teacher, a paralegal, an Internal Revenue Service officer, a branch manager for a car-rental company and lawyers.
And there is Kale.
At 43, with three children, she comes to the job equipped to handle people.
Before she earned her college degree summa cum laude from Kent State University in 1997, she managed a truck-freight terminal and worked in trucking for 18 years.
She hired and fired mechanics, dispatched trucks, kept irate shippers at bay, and had a map in her head for instant recall of where every trucker on the road might be.
She now is about to finish one part of her training and begin work as an assistant examiner in Detroit. Does the prospect of telling the board of directors of a thrift their books don't square seem intimidating?
"I don't scare easy," said Kale.
OTS recruiters have gone to college campuses to recruit freshly minted graduates who show a penchant for skepticism and a facility with numbers.
Raul Montes, 29, is just out of Baruch College with a degree in finance and economics. He began his career as an OTS intern, working full time for the agency while going to school at night and raising two daughters with his wife.
Born and raised in New York City, he began his higher education at La Guardia Community College. He worked odd jobs in construction and painting after leaving high school in the 11th grade.
Montes said he took an offer to be an examiner because he figured it would be tough to go straight to Wall Street and make a million just out of college.
Some of the new recruits enroll in college and earn advanced degrees at nontraditional ages. Leona Crosby was a dental office manager for 18 years until she earned a master's degree in finance from Johns Hopkins University in 1997.
All of the 45 new assistant examiners hired since 1998 must complete a four-year course of classroom work and on-site examinations. There is some attrition, but generally the washout rate is only about 5 percent, the agency said.
Seidman said the OTS needs people to kick the tires at the banks it regulates because the agency, like many businesses in America, has an aging work force. The average age of its 597-person corps of examiners is 45, and many examiners are eligible for retirement, or will be soon.
Seidman said the OTS is offering more benefits such as a telecommuting pilot program to get and keep new examiners. Examiners, who are assigned to five OTS regional offices, can be on the road much of time, visiting the institutions they are responsible for. Those working out of Seattle, for example, can spend 125 nights a year away from home.
For the first time, the agency is allowing examiners to do some of their work -- such as writing lengthy evaluations -- at home. It has beefed up flexible spending accounts for employees and contributes to insurance premiums.
The OTS is competing in the applicant pool with other bank regulators, which often pay more. Entry-level OTS examiners earn $30,000 to $37,000, depending on where the job is located.
The much-larger Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., with responsibility for overseeing 5,500 institutions, is emerging from a period of downsizing. It started adding to its bank supervisory corps in 1997 and since has added close to 600 to its examiner ranks. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also hopes to hire about 200 supervisory personnel.
Some industry insiders expressed amazement that new life was being breathed into the OTS, an agency whose longevity was in doubt not so long ago as thrifts were closing their doors by the day.
"The OTS gets the Lazarus award," said one banking lawyer. "We left it for dead and they are coming back again."