FDIC Chief Earned Rep As A Consumer Advocate
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on the high-profile head of a normally low-profile agency.
YUKI NOGUCHI: Sheila Bair likes seeing herself as a populist.
BLOCK: Time magazine called me the champion of the little guy, when they named me to their Top 100 list for 2008, and I did like that.
NOGUCHI: Bair saw herself as a defender of the average American at a time when she felt Washington was paying too much attention to Wall Street.
BLOCK: We do relate to Main Street folks who have their deposits in banks. And it's our job, first and foremost, to protect those depositors - not to protect banks, but to protect those depositors.
NOGUCHI: Bair is a Republican but her pro-regulatory stance sometimes puts her at odds with her party.
BLOCK: In the early to mid-2000s, deregulation had been in vogue for a long time and we clearly went too far with that and forgot that, you know, I'm all for free markets but I'm not for free-for-all markets. And you need some basic rules of the road. And you need regulators - strong, robust regulators to enforce those rules of the road.
NOGUCHI: In fact, Bair's reputation as a consumer advocate made her a darling of the liberal left.
BLOCK: She was like a godsend.
NOGUCHI: John Taylor is president and CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.
BLOCK: Given that she even talked about the issues that we cared about, that she was vocal about them and often on the same side of the ledger as consumer advocates - so yeah, I mean it was a breath of fresh air and we're going to really miss her.
NOGUCHI: As part of recent Wall Street reforms, Bair's FDIC gained the power to monitor and, if necessary, unwind troubled non-bank institutions. Bair argued it's an important way to manage systemic financial risk. But Bair's positions have angered the banking industry.
BLOCK: Well, I'm not a fan of Sheila Bair's.
NOGUCHI: Bert Ely is a banking industry consultant and perhaps Bair's most vocal critic. Among his complaints: Bair's support for requiring that banks set aside more capital to offset risk.
BLOCK: Under Sheila, the FDIC has lived up to its nickname of Forever Demanding Increased Capital. And I don't have any problem with independence, as long as it's based on sound judgment. I feel that in many cases that's not true, as far as Sheila's concern.
NOGUCHI: Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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