Missouri Finance Commissioner Shares His Vision

Lee Keith discusses his goals for the Division of Finance, banking’s future

In late January, “acting” was removed from Lee Keith’s title at the Missouri Division of Finance when the Missouri Senate confirmed his appointment as commissioner.

For Keith, the transition from acting commissioner to commissioner was minimal. Since he was appointed by Gov. Eric Greitens in May 2017, Keith has embraced his new role in banking, speaking with bankers throughout the Show-Me State and at events like the Missouri Bankers Association’s conferences. The Missouri Banker sat down with Keith recently to learn more about his vision for the Division of Finance and the banking community.

What have you discovered as the commissioner that has been a surprise to you?

The receptivity of the bankers and the Division of Finance staff has amazed me. I don’t have a regulatory background, but I have been in the private sector for 40 years and covered banking from A to Z. I’ve shared that my vision for the division has four components that I call PACT. We are professional, we are an advocate, we are communicative, and we are timely. It’s gained momentum with the staff and bankers. 

I want bankers to know that PACT is not just some lingo. The division wants to speak with bankers on a regular basis and ensure both parties have the same objectives — a safe, sound and progressive bank environment. I want to know about their banks, the issues that challenge them and how the division can assist their banks.

How have banks responded to PACT?

Bankers quote me on PACT — I know they are listening! I believe most are pleased with the division. Banks are responsible organizations, and they want to continue this long-standing tradition. Because I bring a different background as commissioner, bankers know I’ve been in the trenches when it comes to understanding the difficult challenges they face. 

For most decisions, about 85 percent are obvious and we can get back quickly with the banks. For the other 15 percent, we need to dive into the situation, get the facts and weigh the factors to make a decision for what needs to happen. Once the process gets going, we can evaluate to see if things are moving in the right direction.

What priorities would you like to see the division accomplish?

Safety and soundness are our main priorities. The process for banking is roughly the same, but what does banking look like in the future? With the ever-changing technological advancements in our industry, we need to have open discussions about fintech while keeping safety and soundness in mind. Fintech is a new dynamic for the industry that we need to embrace and understand.

Employing best practices in the division interests me. It’s a longer term goal that requires looking at how we process things, where do we spend most of our time and the pre-exam process. This type of evaluation will help determine if we need to add, revise or remove certain steps in procedures. 

What are your goals for the division?

I want to continue enhancing the skills and knowledge of our staff. There is more than $200 billion between bank and trust assets. The number of banks in the state may be down, but the assets are up significantly. 

Bankers have told me to keep people with experience and retain quality examiners. I want our staff to have a career path with the division so we are seen as allies with the banking industry. I want to make the Division of Finance the employer of choice.

What can banks expect from you and the division?

As I have shared with bankers, they can expect the division to be professional, an advocate, communicative and timely. 

In the last quarter of 2017, I visited 22 bank CEOs. We want to speak with you on a regular basis. We want to know your concerns and how we can help your banks prosper. Many have heard me say this — community banks are the lifeblood of the community. Our mindset is focused on how to help the banks and communities prosper and grow. 

What opportunities do you see for Missouri’s banks?

Other industries are evaluating the banking sector. Technology is something we should embrace. Fintech may be a factor in leveling the playing field with the country’s larger banks in terms of availability of services. We can take what’s out there and give high-touch relationships with customers. It’s an elevated level of service that our customers can have with their community banks.

What do you want bankers to know about your role as commissioner?

I am a huge proponent for community banking and have spent 40 years advocating for the industry. Now, I’m looking at banking from a regulatory perspective where most say, “You can’t do that.” I say that we look at it from another angle and open our horizons for fresh capital in the industry.

In Missouri, we have nonbankers purchasing banks. It’s different from what we are used to seeing, but these investors know there’s a future in community banking. This new capital in community banking excites me. Banking may look and feel different, but I haven’t given up my passion for community banking since 1976.