Salvatore Marranca, the new chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America, didn't even know what the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was when he took a job there in 1968.
It was the height of the Vietnam War, and employers were reluctant to hire an able-bodied college graduate who was certain to be drafted — that is, except the federal government.
Marranca was drafted six months later, but had a job waiting when he returned home to western New York State. He spent 12 years as a bank examiner, and when his next promotion meant uprooting his young family and moving to Washington or New York City, he opted to become a community banker.
His experience on both ends of supervision prepared him for the task ahead: Serving as a bridge between the two sides at a time of growing animosity among bankers over a spate of new regulations.
"I had seen many, many banks … and I knew that I wanted to be part of the solution," Marranca said in an interview Wednesday, a week after being elected ICBA chairman. "I wanted to have input and see the results of it. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be part of the community."
In 1982, he joined Cattaraugus County Bank in Little Valley, N.Y., becoming the $180 million-asset bank's president and chief executive a few years later.
Though Marranca provides a link between the worlds of bankers and examiners, much has changed since his days at the FDIC. During his tenure, 1969 to 1982, examiners had much closer ties to the bankers they visited, he said.
They were also generalists who took a more holistic approach to bank examinations. Marranca said examiners rarely, if ever, came in looking to play "gotcha," or review something as specific as Bank Secrecy Act or Community Reinvestment Act compliance without looking at the whole picture. In many cases, however, "that's the situation today with the specialist examiners," he said.
Marranca said he understands to a degree why modern-day examiners take certain stands. The financial crisis put pressure on top regulators, which filters down to field examiners who don't want anything bad to happen to a bank on their watch. That has inevitably changed the environment.
Marranca said he's retained many of the conservative values he picked up as an examiner. "You learn safety and soundness is the foundation for everything — not growth, not stock price, not short-term gains, not any of that stuff," he said.
Marranca said his priorities include protecting community banks from the potentially damaging effects of a proposal to cap interchange fees, ensuring that any rules proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau won't burden small banks and spreading the word about the unintended consequences of new regulation.
Bankers who know Marranca said he's the perfect choice to lead the ICBA, when regulators are preparing to write hundreds of new rules tied to the Dodd-Frank Act.
Little Valley is a small town — two of Marranca's branches have hitching posts, and four are in towns with a single traffic light — yet he's spent years focusing on policy issues, first at the Independent Community Bankers Association of New York, where he was president, and later on with various ICBA committees.
That, combined with his FDIC background, gives him the perspective to see the effect of regulations, said John Buhrmaster, the president of First National Bank of Scotia in New York.
"Frequently in these meetings, you need to give responses to government leaders, regulators about how something will affect your bank and your customers," Buhrmaster said. "Somebody like Sal, who has the experience of being on the front line but also the experience of being a regulator, can answer those questions uniquely."
Wayne Cottle, the president and CEO of Dean Co-operative Bank in Franklin, Mass., called Marranca the "consummate" community banker. "His mantra is to fight the good fight," he said.
"If you know anything about Sal, his definition of 'fight the good fight' is believing that community bankers are the good guys, who always deserve a seat at the table," Cottle said. "He's going to do ... everything he can to see that they get a seat at the table."
Most importantly, Marranca said he wants to engage members.
"In many cases bankers have done a good job for many, many years of not telling our story," Marranca said. "Maybe it took a financial crisis for us to finally get 'mad as hell' and not want to be lumped in with when the president of the United States says 'fat cat bankers.' "
Marranca added, "We did learn the hard way to tell our story of who and what we are, and people are listening."