President Obama's Best Decision in 2015

By John

Earlier this week, President Obama announced that he will nominate former Bank of Hawaii CEO Allan Landon to serve on the nation's most prestigious and influential economic committee, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

This was big news because Landon is a community banker -- albeit one who oversaw a multibillion-dollar balance sheet -- whereas most members of the board come from Wall Street or other corners of high finance.

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But the irony in all of the hoopla surrounding the appointment is that Landon is precisely the type of person we want making regulatory and monetary policy decisions. Unlike the majority of ostensibly sophisticated money-center and regional lenders, Bank of Hawaii sailed through the financial crisis almost entirely unscathed.

Indeed, more than perhaps any other person on the board, Landon comes to the table with a virtually unblemished track record as a bank executive.

In the first case, unlike a shocking number of his peers in the industry, Landon didn't allow Bank of Hawaii to succumb to the siren song of subprime mortgages in the lead-up to the crisis. You can see the impact of this prudence in the following figure, which charts the bank's nonperforming loan ratio from 2004, Landon's first full year at the helm, through 2013, relative to an average of the nation's 16 largest traditional lenders.

Suffice it to say that Bank of Hawaii markedly outperformed its much larger competitors throughout the entirety of Landon's tenure. At the height of the crisis in 2009, Bank of Hawaii's nonperforming loan ratio topped out at a mere 0.8%. Meanwhile, the average ratio at the 16 biggest banks was a staggeringly large 3.7%.

And in the second case, it's clear that Landon embraces the importance of efficiency, which is arguably the most important trait of an exceptional lender.

Over the same period covered in the preceding chart, Bank of Hawaii's efficiency ratio oscillated between 51% and 60%, which is precisely the range a retail bank wants to be in. Moreover, it outperformed the industry in this regard every year that Landon headed the bank. In 2008, for instance, the nation's biggest banks had an average efficiency ratio of 64.6% versus Bank of Hawaii's 51.2%.

To be clear, while these are only two metrics, their significance can't be overstated. They are how great banks separate themselves from good banks, and where good banks are distinguished from lousy banks. And they provide the single most accurate reflection on whether or not an executive and/or institution truly grasps the fundamentals of responsible risk management.

In short, while Landon may not have the same Wall Street pedigree that many of his current and former counterparts on the board might have, he is ideally situated to represent the best elements of the American banking industry.

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John Maxfield has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Bank of America, and Bank of Hawaii and recommends Apple and Bank of America. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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