Federal banking regulators have adopted a two-faced approach to industry lending practices.
While publicly badgering banks to lend more to boost the economy, regulators are pressuring them to be cautious in evaluating existing loans and making it extremely hard to start new banks.
This week, for example, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair said on Bloomberg Television that she was "concerned" that banks were making only the safest loans.
But e3bank, a would-be lender in Malvern, said last week that it would refund money to investors and resubmit its application for a bank charter next year because it wanted to account for tighter regulation by the FDIC and forced changes to the business plan it showed investors.
Regulators objected to e3bank's plan to gather deposits nationally while making loans only in the Philadelphia region. Another factor, said e3bank's chief executive officer, Frank Baldassarre, was the FDIC's decision in August to expand to seven years from three years the amount of time new banks face greater scrutiny.
He said the bank was not forced to return the money.
"I think overall the FDIC is being much more diligent in the way it reviews de novo bank applications," Baldassarre said, using the industry term for new banks. "We can fully support what they are doing."
Banking experts were more critical of the regulatory environment for new banks, citing a widespread impression that there was a moratorium on new banks.
"They are not approving new banks because they don't want to add to the competition out there," said John Putman, a vice president at Danielson Associates, an investment bank in Bethesda, Md., that specializes in community banks. The concern about competition is that new banks could cause additional weak banks to fail, adding to the FDIC's burden.
The FDIC did not respond to a request for information on the number of would-be lenders stuck in the approval process. The FDIC said in an August document on rule changes that it was cracking down on new banks because they had been more likely to fail than older banks over the last two years.
Another problem for new banks is that "investors are looking at existing banks that they can buy at less than book value," or at a discount, because of troubles in the industry, said Frank Bonaventure, a banking lawyer with Ober Kaler in Baltimore.
Baldassarre said he had been advised not to disclose how much money e3bank had raised. In July, a bank official said it had raised $2 million in capital from about 35 private investors.