Over the years, since Operation HOPE’s founding in April, 1992, I have met and dealt with several chairs and vice chairs of the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). They have all been impressive people, and some are still good friends of mine, such as former chairman Don Powell. Good friends. That said, some of them were more attuned to the issues of the poor, the working class and the underserved than others. Some were market market oriented. All were intelligent, and seemingly well intention.
That said, there is one that stands out from all that came before her, and her name is Sheila Bair, pictured here with me following a 2007 community round table at our Anacostia HOPE Center, jist outside of Washington, D.C. Since meeting Chairwoman Bair I have not only grown to respect her intellect, but I like her as a person, and admire her integrity as a leader without personal agenda. Finally, she "gets" our work, more than almost anyone that has come before her in this post. She is the one FDIC chair that has brought a full compliment of the necessary talents to the job, and applied them. That includes how she and the FDIC have dealt with this ongoing and growing mortgage subprime crisis. I commend FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, my friend. She "gets it." Read on.
Most recently she has done two things that have impressed me.
A few months ago I contacted her around my deep concern for the future of responsible subprime lending, post crisis. I suggested to her that responsible subprime lending, nor lending to poor people, was not the problem here. That responsible subprime lending had actually helped to uplift the poor, but the problem today was moreso irresponsible and predatory subprime lending, fraud, investor speculation, and massive levels of borrower financial illiteracy. She agreed. And so, we agreed to work together here going forward; her in her capacity as chair of the FDIC, and me in my dual capacity as chairman of Operation HOPE and vice chairman of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. You will hear more about what Chairwoman and the FDIC is up to here, as well as myself, both independently and together in the weeks to come, but I could not be more proud of our collaboration, and FDIC’s chosen leader. Again, she "gets it."
Secondly, she has taken it as her personal responsibility to help correct the massive problem the nation faces with respect to the growing subprime mortgage mess. Once again, I commend her leadership, and thankfully her leadership voice on this issue has been joined by a chorus of other visionary and action oriented voices I know well and respect; from U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (whom I am honored to be associated with as it relates to the U.S. President’s Council, and will in my opinion go down in history as one of America’s better U.S. Treasury Secretaries ), to Congressman Barney Franks, to U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, to Congressman Hinojosa and Congresswoman Judith Biggert, who together lead the House financial literacy caucus, and a host of friends in the Senate and the House from both sides of the political aisle.
And like Secretary Paulson and Congressman Franks, Chair Bair has not just "talked the problem to death," she has actually a solution; a sweeping initiative called the Home Ownership Preservation Loans (HOP Loans) Program, which has the benefit of being proactive, practical, pragmatic and broad based. Also, it has the potential of helping many needy and deserving homeowners sooner rather than later.
At the end of the day, I do not know whether Chairwoman Bair’s proposal will get the support that it needs, nor have I delved deep into into its details to appreciate at bottom whether it is "the" solution, so to speak. Making this question even more challenging, there are proposals floating about in Washington, D.C. and specific efforts making their way through Congress that many believe already have significant momentum behind them. That said, and knowing Chair Bair a little bit, I am not sure that her intention was solely focused around her belief that she had "the" (only) answer. Her ego is not that big. I think she knows who she is. She also knows how Washington works.
I think Chairwoman Bair was sending a powerful and important "shot over the bow" message, and a positive one, to help inject additional innovation and creative thinking, and urgency, into the process. She also put the world on notice that the FDIC believes this to be a genuine crisis, desperately in need of a solution. An important signal in my view.
And so, at the end of the day, I don’t know whose proposal will ultimately rise to the occasion, or whether it will be a blend of many good ideas, but I was proud to see that Chair Bair, and others, had the political courage to say what they believed, at a time when America needs as many strong and confidence voices weighing in (with solutions) with respect to our collective future as possible.
I have often said that "courage is simply the actions of your faith, reaching through and beyond your fears, for the benefit of others." Thank you Chairwoman Sheila Bair for showing real courage my friend. We need more of that in America. See you back in Anacostia soon.
Onward with HOPE,
John Hope Bryant