FDIC chairman nominee calls herself ‘uniquely prepared’ to be leader of agency

Jelena McWilliams glances at her statement, which she recited mostly from memory.

The nominee to lead the federal bank deposit insurance agency said she is “uniquely prepared” for the job, citing her background as a former congressional and Federal Reserve staffer and as a bank executive.

In her prepared remarks, Jelena McWilliams – nominee for chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) – told the Senate Banking Committee that her experience “has afforded me a 360-degree view of our financial system and the institutions that regulate it.”

She told the committee that, if confirmed, she was confident she would effectively lead the agency in its mission to ensure the safety and soundness of insured depositories “while balancing consumer protection and the need for available credit to grow the economy.”

McWilliams is nominated to replace Martin J. Gruenberg as chairman of the bank deposit insurance agency. Gruenberg’s term as chairman ended in November; he continues to serve in that role until his successor is confirmed by the Senate.

McWilliams, 43, is now executive vice president, chief legal officer, and corporate secretary for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, Ohio. Before that, she was chief counsel and deputy staff director for the Senate Banking Committee. She previously served as assistant chief counsel for the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

The nominee told the committee that her personal experience as an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia will inform her role leading the FDIC.

“One of the side effects of the civil war that broke apart the former Yugoslavia was a collapse of its financial system. My parents’ meager savings disappeared overnight when a local bank closed its doors,” she said. “Yugoslavia had no deposit insurance, and my then 68-year old father returned to work as a day laborer.

“I can assure you that the core mission of the FDIC resonates profoundly with me and, if confirmed, I will not take its mission or my duties lightly,” she said.

McWilliams received relatively easy treatment from the Senate panel. In response to Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), she said her priorities at the FDIC would include a focus on community banks, in particular: their “regulatory burden,” increasing de novo charters, cybersecurity, and impact of Basel rules.

In response to Sen. Robert Melendez (D-N.J.) about enforcing Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations, McWilliams called the anti-redlining regulations “the law of the land.” She called unbanked communities vital parts of communities and said banks need to expand their customer base. “As a part of the low and moderate income community, I am committed that the FDIC will fully execute the mandate of the CRA,” she said.

Statement of Jelena McWilliams

McWilliams bio, more