Three little letters: That is all it takes to turn friendly neighborhood bankers into frightened little kittens.
Three little letters to transform the kingpins of small business into empty suits whose only job is to say "No."
They hate that. They want to make money too.
But as much as they want your business, bankers dread even more a visit from the Office of Comptroller Currency.
The OCC. The three little letters responsible for what used to be routine health checks on local banks.
We are not talking about the hedge funds that call themselves banks and run ads with Keifer Sutherland to brag about their (non-existent) small business loans. We are talking about regional and local banks who want to be on the front lines of the economic recovery, but instead must watch from the sidelines.
Because there is nothing routine anymore about a visit from the OCC.
Bankers know that folks from the OCC are enforcers, not regulators: They just want to make sure that you do not lend money to people who check the wrong boxes on their small business loan applications.
The box that asks if their credit score is below some arbitrary number.
Because if that box is checked and your banker makes a loan anyway -- maybe because he knows the borrower (we used to call them customers) or their credit history (we used to call that character) or their temporary circumstances (we used to call that managing risk) the bank would be classified as too risky.
If you saw the movie Apocalypto, then you know what happens next: Lots of strange people from far away turn your life upside down.
A slight modification to the way the OCC classifies loans would give thousands of bankers across the country the ability to get money back to Main Street.
With the stroke of a pen the President could direct the Secretary of the Treasury to change the OCC's posture and return some discretion to local bankers -- who were never caught up in the Great Mess of 2008 anyway, even though we still punish them as if they were.
Then guess what happens: Money flows back to the plumbers and carpenters and electricians on Main Street.
Jobs grow. Kiefer Sutherland goes back to acting. We forget about the three little letters. The largest self-inflicted financial crisis in American history fades away.
And your local bankers go back to the two things they like the most: Playing golf. And saying yes.