Q&A with Lee Symcox
Regulation is biggest challenge facing Oklahoma bankers
Q: Can you explain what your role will be as part of the Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City?
A: There are 12 members on the Advisory Council from over the 10th Federal Reserve District, which covers Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, northern New Mexico and western Missouri. Our role is to provide the leadership of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank insight on various issues at a localized level so they can carry out their mission of conducting monetary policy, providing an efficient payment system and supervise and regulate banking operations.
Q: What are some of the issues that community banks are dealing with that you hope to bring to the Fed's attention?
A: The 10th District covers a relatively large geographical area and what I found very interesting is the diversity of the economies within the area. It is important for the Fed leadership to know what the sentiment of the businesses in our area is and what is holding back their ability and desire to expand. Probably one of the most pressing issues for the banking industry is the level of regulatory burden that is coming out of Washington. It has reached a level that many banks, particularly in smaller towns, are considering not providing certain products such as home loans to their customers. As a primary bank regulator, the Fed needs to hear these issues and fortunately, the leadership of the Kansas City Fed is very responsive to this feedback.
Q: As a fourth-generation banker, how did your family get into the industry?
A: My great grandfather was a farmer in southwestern Oklahoma and was on the board of a bank in Cordell. Later, his two sons joined Farmers National Bank and acquired controlling interest. In the early '50s, my grandfather moved to Norman, following my father and uncle as they went to OU. At that time, he acquired the City National Bank (which is now First Fidelity Bank) in Norman. After graduation, both my father and uncle went to work there. My father is still very active and next year, will celebrate 60 years in the bank.
Q: How has the industry changed since you became CEO of First Fidelity in 1993?
A: There have been tremendous changes. When I first entered banking, Oklahoma did not permit branching. We saw the oil bust in the '80s, which began the consolidation of banking in Oklahoma and eliminated many longtime bankers from the landscape. Banking has become much more competitive as restrictions on entering the market have all but been eliminated. The level of regulation has just become overwhelming, complicating the process for customers to the point that at times it inhibits the ability of the bank to provide services to the customer. Banking is now an instant world with electronic banking. Branch traffic is on a constant decline. It has become a completely different world in the past 20 years.
Brianna Bailey, Business Writer