John Ryan, fierce defender of dual banking system, is dead at 58

John Ryan, a passionate defender of the dual banking system and a driving force as the president and chief executive of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, where he worked for 30 years, died unexpectedly late Monday night at his home in Washington.

He was 58 and died of natural causes, said Laura Fisher, a CSBS spokeswoman.

Ryan played a critical role in representing states’ interests in some of the most important banking policy debates of recent decades including the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Dodd-Frank Act, and Safe Act that for the first time allowed states to create a uniform system for licensing and oversight of the mortgage industry.

Ryan was known as a voice of state regulators and community banks, advocating that states have a central role to play as a check on federal authority.

“He argued that one of the strengths of America was having community banks in every town as a foundation of the economy,” said Jo Ann Barefoot, the CEO and co-founder of the Alliance for Innovative Regulation and a former deputy comptroller of the currency. “Despite having one of the hardest jobs, he was the nicest person, and was always so positive and kind.” 

“He wasn’t afraid to fight, but he would fight as cleanly and fairly and collegially as a person could fight,” a state regulator says of CSBS’s John Ryan, who died this week.

Ryan helped combat efforts by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to create its own federal nonbank fintech charter. The CSBS sued the OCC in 2017, claiming it went beyond its statutory authority by allowing nonbanks into the banking system. Judges eventually threw out that and related suits on technical grounds, but the threat of more litigation has discouraged fintechs from filing applications with the OCC.

“He wasn’t afraid to fight, but he would fight as cleanly and fairly and collegially as a person could fight,” said Melanie Hall, Montana’s Commissioner of Banking and Financial Institutions and the chair of CSBS’ board. 

No information on Ryan’s survivors was immediately available.

Smart, analytical and a visionary thinker, Ryan championed two distinct causes: the preservation of the state banking system as a check on federal power, and the role of state regulators in protecting consumers while creating a healthy local economic environment for banks and nonbanks alike.

For nearly three decades, Ryan fought successfully for state regulators to have a seat at the federal table including on the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council and the Financial Stability Oversight Council. 

“He was a constant beacon and supporter of the fact that the states have a different role to play and have to be at the table — [that] it can’t just come from D.C.,” Hall said.

CSBS gained traction in the aftermath of the financial crisis, when nonbank lenders were largely responsible for the proliferation of subprime mortgages. In 2008, Ryan spearheaded the launch of CSBS’ Nationwide Multistate Licensing System that registered and licensed nonbanks at the state level. The system helped keep bad actors from jumping from one state to another.

“He wanted state banks to survive and thrive, and he carried that forward to nonbanks as well,” said Chuck Cross, a senior vice president of consumer protection and nondepository supervision at CSBS. “The result was a well-thought-out supervisory oversight at both the state and federal level.”

Ryan also was responsible for creating the Community Bank Research Conference, now in its 10th year, in which CSBS partnered with the Federal Reserve Board and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Martin J. Gruenberg, the acting chairman of the FDIC, described Ryan as “a close friend and trusted partner in our shared mission to ensure the safety and soundness of the banking system.”

Ryan grew up in Northern California and worked at Bank of Walnut Creek, where his father was president and CEO until retiring in 2006, when the bank’s parent company was acquired by First Republic Bank.

Ryan worked for the Housing Banking Committee in 1994 when the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act was passed, authorizing a new era in interstate banking. That legislation sparked a lifelong passion in Ryan to ensure that states continue to play a key supervisory role.

“The concern was that certain state laws would be preempted and the state-chartered banking system would be considered at a disadvantage,” recalled Buz Gorman, CSBS’ general counsel. “That was our first foray into network supervision, to create efficiencies in the state system.”

Ryan joined CSBS in 1997 as an assistant vice president of legislative affairs. He rose through the ranks becoming an executive vice president in 2003 and president and CEO in 2011.

He continued to advocate for the concept of network supervision that allowed states to work together to leverage technology and take collective action to supervise nonbanks. CSBS, now in its 125th year, was created in 1902 as the National Association of State Bank Supervisors.

Level-headed in the face of conflict and adversity, Ryan also was known for being both humble and inspirational. 

“You couldn’t go anywhere with John without bumping into someone he knew or knowing someone who knew him really well,” said Cross. “He leveraged that into helping improve bank supervision. He had this knack for knowing who to talk to and when. His timing was impeccable and his message so clear.”

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