Maryland’s financial regulator nominated for Fed job

Sarah Bloom Raskin is deeply interested in the economy's effect on everyday life, a driving force in her work to keep Marylanders from being scammed, foreclosed on or caught up in a bank failure.

That consumer focus caught White House attention. Raskin, Maryland's top financial regulator, is one of three nominated Thursday by President Barack Obama to fill empty seats on the powerful Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

She would join at a fraught time for the Fed, which has been criticized for paying too little attention to consumer issues. As the country struggles out of the hole dug by the 2008 financial meltdown, the central bank is fighting to defend its pre-crisis handling of monetary policy — and to come out the other end of financial reform with more regulatory authority rather than less.

Janet Yellen, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, is the best known of the nominees. And Peter Diamond, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has White House connections — he co-wrote a book about saving Social Security with the administration's Office of Management and Budget director. But Raskin would bring some Main Street cred to the board, observers say.

"In the aftermath of the financial crisis, there's been greater scrutiny of the Fed's role as a regulator — what should they have caught earlier, what missteps can be avoided in the future," said Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst with "So this is a nominee that adds a lot of strength to the lineup from a regulatory standpoint."

Raskin, a Takoma Park resident, has many fans in the state. The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition named her its consumer advocate of the year in 2009. Foreclosure-prevention activists said she was a key player in the 2008 push to give homeowners more time and notification before lenders can schedule an auction. On Thursday, banks in the state praised her tenure, particularly the effort she spent getting to know each of them when she came on board in 2007.

A number of federally chartered banks in Maryland are converting to state charter so they will be regulated by her division of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"It's because of the reputation she's developed for her office: strong oversight but accessibility," said Kathleen Murphy, chief executive of the Maryland Bankers Association. "And that's what we need these days."

Raskin, whose nomination must be approved by the Senate, declined to comment. She would have to leave her state job to join the seven-member board, which influences interest rates, oversees part of the country's financial system and is charged with helping the nation contain financial risk.

Raskin, 49, majored in economics at Amherst College — her senior thesis was about monetary theory — and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1986. She spent several years as banking counsel to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, the committee that confirms Fed nominees.

Before taking the $115,000-a-year state regulator job, Raskin worked for several companies, including Promontory Financial Group, which advises banks. Alfred H. Moses, Promontory's co-founder and chief operating officer, said Raskin got to see the inside workings of banks as she helped them fix problems and avoid collapse.

He said he's not surprised that she is well liked by consumers and bankers alike.

"She has that touch," Moses said. "She understands you can't have one without the other."

Her work as a state regulator has brought her before Congress to testify on financial issues. She told the Congressional Oversight Panel last year that she hopes the crisis will bring "a renewed understanding that the concentration of financial power and a lack of transparency are not in the long-term interests of our financial system, our economic system or our democracy."

"She has always wanted to make a difference where complicated economic theory meets the reality of everyday life," said state Sen. Jamie Raskin, who met her at Harvard and married her in 1990.

Under her leadership, Maryland's financial regulation division has targeted foreclosure-rescue scam artists, championed legislation that closed a loophole that payday lenders were using to charge steep fees and shone a spotlight on a quietly collapsing debt-collection law firm.

The housing slump and credit crisis continue to topple financial institutions nationwide, but none of the 64 banks, trust institutions and credit unions that Raskin regulates has failed.

Anne Balcer Norton, director of foreclosure prevention at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore, said the state's financial regulation division "was kind of sitting on the sidelines" before Raskin arrived.

"She's really moved that ahead, so not only is it relevant but it's pushing forward," Norton said.

John Ryan, executive vice president of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, the association of state financial regulators, thinks Raskin would help make the Federal Reserve more relevant, too.

"She really has a ground-level, grass-roots perspective," Ryan said. "We need a Fed that's not just focused on Wall Street."

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, said the Fed justly deserves some of the criticism it is getting about its lack of attention to the frenzy of lax mortgage lending that helped throw the country into a severe recession.

"They gave short shrift to consumer regulatory issues," he said.

Raskin had been rumored for weeks to be a leading candidate for the Fed board. Her husband said she kept her own counsel about it, "so I've been reading the newspapers like everybody else, trying to figure out what's going on."

"It's very exciting," he said. "She's been urging me since law school to read one of her textbooks on macroeconomics, so now I'm going to have to do it."

Raskin said his wife applies her passion for economics to home as well as work. She's a voracious coupon-clipper and price-comparison shopper. And she put their three children — ages 13 to 17 — on a strict allowance system that would make a monetary policy theorist proud.

"She has some complicated formulas about how much each kid should get," her husband said.

Sarah Bloom Raskin
: 49
: Maryland's commissioner of financial regulation, 2007 to present
: Managing director at Promontory Financial Group; general counsel at Worldwide Retail Exchange and Columbia Energy Services Corp.; banking counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
: Graduated from Amherst College in 1983 and from Harvard Law School in 1986
: Husband, Jamie Raskin, a state senator; daughters Hannah, 17, and Tabitha, 13; and son, Tommy, 15

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