A word with Patti Perkins, director of the Idaho Department of Finance

Sharon Fisher//February 25, 2020

A word with Patti Perkins, director of the Idaho Department of Finance

Sharon Fisher//February 25, 2020

photo of patti perkins
Patti Perkins was named director of the Idaho Department of Finance, which governs state-chartered banks and credit unions, in December. Photo by Sharon Fisher

Patti Perkins has had a varied career that includes leadership roles in banking, human resources and now government as the new director of the Idaho Department of Finance.

Perkins, who most recently ran her own HR consulting company, took on the role at the Department of Finance on Jan. 13, replacing acting director Mary Hughes, who in turn had replaced former director Gavin Gee, who retired in January 2019.

The appointment by Gov. Brad Little was a bit of a change of pace for Perkins, who had also previously served as director of human resources for the City of Meridian, leader of the Workplace Relations & Practices team at T-Mobile, senior vice president at KeyBank and vice president at Bank of America.

The Idaho Business Review recently met with Perkins to talk about her plans for the department, which, among other things, regulates state-chartered banks and credit unions in the state of Idaho.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you come to be here?

I was very happily doing human resources consulting with my company, Calyx-Weaver & Associates, which is truly what I thought would continue to do through retirement. I had coffee with a former banking friend of mine who asked me if I had ever thought of being the director of finance. He was part of the search committee, and they have been trying to fill this position for a year. They’d had someone identified who didn’t end up relocating. Then they just let it sit for a little while, but they were feeling like they needed to get going on this again. I hadn’t really considered it. I knew it was open, but I hadn’t paid attention to it. The more he and I talked, and he sent me the job description, the more intrigued I became and I thought, I’m going to see what this is about.

I said sure, I will talk with people, and they started to have me speak with industry groups, for both the banks and the credit unions. Then there was some period of time where they said they would like to have me speak to the governor. It’s governor-appointed, and he’s technically my boss. That took a little while to schedule. I had that interview with him and his team. That would have been in November or early December. Then the next phone call I got, they offered me the position. I was incredibly honored. Any way this worked out, it would be a win. I was so honored so have been considered at all.

It was really flattering. I’m not a typical candidate for this role. I left banking in 2004. My last three or so years at KeyBank, I was running the retail bank in the state. There was a leadership change in the East, and it felt like the right time to move on. T-Mobile came into the area at the time, and I worked there just shy of 10 years. Then I left them and went to the city of Meridian for two years as their HR director. I purchased Calyx-Weaver, which was Weaver & Associates at the time, in January 2016.

What are you going to do?

The department has a good reputation with the folks that we regulate in the state, by and large. It’s not that we’re perfect, but people feel like we’ll work with them, that we’re fair. We try to approach regulation not with a heavy hand, but more of a, ‘Let’s help you get to the right place.’ It’s a cooperative relationship. I want to continue that. I want to be that type of regulator that is fair and looking for the way to modernize the regulations and the rules that are associated with bank regulation. We will continue doing that. We see the role as being both on the regulation side but also promoting the financial services business in the state. Competition is good, and giving consumers a choice is good. Om the regulation side, we make sure financial services are safe and sound and fair to the consumer. It’s dual-purpose.

A recent study found that Boise ranked third in the country by percentage of closed bank branches. What causes that?

It depends on what side of the fence you sit on. I would love to see us grow more community banks. I think it’s a function of community banks that they take a lot of capital. There’s a good reason — it’s part of the soundness and safety part. They become targets for other institutions. It’s sometimes easier and cheaper to buy a small bank than build a bunch of branches. One of the things we’ve seen is a number of the community banks give way or be purchased by out-of-state banks. First Interstate, that’s one of them. Before that, it was Bank of the Cascades. They’re Oregon. It is the way it is. They’re still here, and we’re glad they’re part of the financial services landscape. The consumer still has choices. But we’re Idaho, and we want Idaho-based banks.

There are some that have gone away, but others that have remained. My background is in commercial banking. When you look to acquire a bank, part of what you looked at was duplication of services within a geographic range. There may be some of that. Two existing entities with branches will create some branch closure by virtue of you overbanking your geography. I had heard that US Bank was shutting down some of the small branches in places. That is hard on a community. That’s part of our mission, to make sure the citizens of Idaho have places to do business. Rural areas may have opportunities through less traditional means that may not be what they need.

What is the role of credit unions?

Credit unions seem to be pretty healthy in the state. There’s one, in particular, that’s very large and doing very well. I am a proponent of both credit unions and banks. There’s some tension between the two types of organizations, primarily because of the taxing differences and the perception that credit unions can do everything banks can do. There’s a place for both, because they do have different roles. Although some consumers would be the same, and the market would overlap, there are things banks do that credit unions cannot or don’t do. Competition is good.

How do you feel about taxing credit unions?

Our official position on it is neutral. We support both types of organizations and don’t want to favor one over the other. Our responsibility is to administer the statutes and the rules that we have. It’s not something that we would generate, but we would remain neutral on any legislation.

What are you doing with the Legislature this year?

We presented some changes. A lot of the changes were to comply with the red tape reduction that the Governor has asked. There is a requirement that we be at least at parity with the federal rules and statutes, and some of our citations were wrong over time, so we were trying to clean that up. We will continue to look at our rules and statutes to make sure we’re keeping up with industry. The governor has made that an official part of what we’ll do. We’ve had a number of changes, and all our rules have now gone through review.

Plus you’re moving.

The state bought the HP campus. As those buildings are vacated, we’re moving state individuals and agencies in. We are scheduled at present to move in fiscal 2021, and it’s probably going to be actually in 2021 because we have some projects and some things that require everybody’s participation and attendance at the end of the year. We’re not in a position to move this calendar year; we’re targeting the first part of next year.

I’m kind of excited about it. I’ve been hanging out there for a while. We’re in a space identified for us, which will require some pretty substantial buildout. It’s truly an empty shell. The nature of our work requires that certain of our team have offices. There’s a state standard, and we’ll be following that, but we’ll also go to some ‘open office concept’ kind of thing. We’re just at the beginning of that planning stage.

How will you pay for it?

We’ve been squirreling away some resources for that. There was a JFAC hearing on some money. I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape. We have a unique agency. We’re a dedicated fund agency. Though we have to appropriate to move money, we can fund it ourselves. We have to go through the process of appropriations and have funds earmarked into next year.

How much will it cost?

It’s kind of a moving target right now. It’s going to be a couple of million anyway at least, maybe a little bit more. We’re working with somewhat older numbers. One of the things that impact what it will cost is the building boom going on. We get caught in it just like everybody else does. The people to do it are scarce, and materials keep spiraling up. We don’t have a hard number, but we have a fairly good idea.

It’s an empty shell. Some agencies can keep their costs a little lower by going into a space that fits their business. We’re using historical numbers based on the Tax Commission and the Public Utilities Commission, those who have gone before us. There’s always lighting and computers. That desk is probably 50 years old.

We’re going to repurpose as much as we can. There are cubicles that we have that were old when we moved into this building 15 years ago. You literally can’t get parts. They’re not up to today’s standards in terms of how they’re secured or not secured. We’ll repurpose as many desks as possible because we didn’t do anything to configure this space. We have lots of offices with lots of desks that don’t fit into cubicles. We haven’t laid it all out, but that’s going to impact the costs. And the fact that it’s on a cement slab presents some challenges with how you run your wires and where you can have water for a break room, because we’re responsible for a certain amount of common space as well.