This summer, banking industry veteran Antonio (Tony) Salazar was appointed by the Hogan administration to the position of commissioner of financial regulation at the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR). Salazar, who most recently spent several years practicing law locally, brings more than 30 years’ experience to his new-ish position. During his career, he has focused not only on banking law, but also commercial financing, transactions, loan restructurings and workouts, real estate, and general business law.
From 2009 until this summer, Salazar led the banking and financial institutions practice at the Columbia law firm of Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny (DARS). Prior to joining the firm, he served for 17 years as deputy general counsel of Provident Bank, a Baltimore-based regional mid-Atlantic bank.
He started his banking career as an enforcement attorney with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in Washington, D.C., the city where he also earned degrees from The George Washington University Law School and Georgetown University. Salazar is admitted to the Maryland, Connecticut and District of Columbia bars; he is also a member of the Hispanic Bar Association.
Before joining the Department of Labor, Salazar served as the president of the Soccer Association of Columbia; was a member of the board of directors of MakingChange of Howard County, which offers financial wellness programs to low-income families and individuals; and had been appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan to the University of Maryland Medical System board of directors.
He is a graduate of Leadership Howard County’s Class of 1999; has served as president of the Jim Rouse Entrepreneurial Fund; and president of Centro de la Comunidad, an organization that provides information and referral services regarding legal issues including citizenship, crises and eviction cases, domestic violence, assault and battery cases.
He lives in Ellicott City with his wife, Patty. They have three grown children.
What in your background do you feel was most beneficial in leading you to your present position?
It was a combination of having worked for the Comptroller of the Currency and the many years I spent at Provident Bank. Provident was a state-chartered, community bank, and those types of institutions make up the bulk of the banks that my office oversees.
What is the function of the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation? What sort of institutions do you regulate?
We regulate depository institutions like banks, mortgage companies and credit unions, as well as non-depository institutions like mortgage lenders, brokers, money transmitters and check cashing institutions.
Our office has dual goals. We strive for a balanced regulatory system that protects Maryland’s consumers and supports its economy. To that end, our office works to make sure that the system includes safe, sound financial institutions that provide products consumers need that are compliant with Maryland law. That’s the other side of the dual mandate.
What’s happening in those areas these days?
Gov. Hogan has made economic development and job growth priorities in the state. Under the Hogan administration, Maryland has experienced low unemployment and high job growth; since January 2015, Maryland has gained more than 125,500 jobs, and its unemployment rate is at a nine-year low. DLLR Secretary Schulz and I work hard to fulfill the governor’s mission, and ensure Maryland’s economy remains competitive.
What, specifically, is your function as the commissioner?
My primary duties are to: oversee the day-to-day operations of the office; set strategic direction for the office; work with Secretary Schulz and the governor’s office on budgeting, administrative issues and policy issues; interface with other state and federal regulators for educational purposes and to coordinate examinations, investigations and other supervisory activities; coordinate outreach efforts with consumers, consumer groups, regulated entities and their representatives, municipalities and the legislature; and direct any enforcement action that our office may undertake.
What are some of the bigger issues facing your office?
We’re looking to the future, notably [to contemplate] the role of financial technology companies and money transmitters, and how these online services fit into the overall regulatory scheme.
Another focus is cooperating with other state regulators as we transition to an exciting new operating system, which will bring increased transparency and information to Maryland’s consumers, and will make doing business with the office of financial regulation easier for Maryland businesses.
One of your office’s functions is licensing new state financial institutions. Are there many new institutions in the pipeline these days?
We are now overseeing 53 chartered banks in Maryland. There is hope that the Federal Reserve will relax some of its requirements applicable to community banks consistent with remarks of Federal Reserve Board Governor Jerome Powell, which could result in the founding of some new banks.
What do you think will result from the Equifax breach? What have we learned from it?
It’s hard to say all that’s been learned, due to the ongoing investigations. What we know is that Equifax failed to protect consumers’ records because its systems for monitoring and implementing patches to its computer system were flawed. So, the easy takeaway is that institutions need to be vigilant and ensure that they closely monitor [information technology] activities like data security, patches, etc.
As a state-based commission, how much do you interact with similar commissions in other states? How much do you work with the federal government?
We work closely with all of the federal regulatory agencies, notably the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), and coordinate examinations with them. On the non-depository side, we coordinate with the Consumer Financial Protection Board, a federal consumer protection agency, in order to identify entities that may be violating Maryland laws or otherwise causing harm to consumers and to identify opportunities to promote consumer financial education in areas such as homeownership and foreclosure avoidance.
Also, Maryland is part of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, which includes all states and the District of Columbia. That type of communication is a key part of what we do.
Mike Davis, managing partner at DARS, describes you as a “banker’s banker.” After working on the private side of banking earlier in your career, do you envision an eventual return to the private sector?
My No. 1 priority is this office and making sure that we have a well-regulated financial system that helps Gov. Hogan continue to build a strong Maryland economy and one that serves Maryland taxpayers efficiently and with outstanding customer service.
What makes you most optimistic about the future of banking in Maryland?
In Maryland, we have a strong, diversified state economy and a chief executive who is committed to growing the private sector and helping Marylanders secure well-paying jobs. Banks make money by making loans and, if businesses are healthy, lending should follow.
Since you speak fluent Spanish, how has the influx of Spanish-speaking customers affected the state’s banking industry?
According to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, revenue for Hispanic-owned firms is expected to reach $661 billion nationally, a 28% increase since 2012. In fact, the number of Hispanic-owned firms has outpaced all U.S. firms for the last decade.
In Maryland alone, there are approximately 54,000 Hispanic businesses. This growth represents a huge opportunity for banks and financial institutions to provide services and products to Hispanic business owners. Our agency is reaching out to all sectors of Maryland’s economy to educate and inform business owners and consumers about the benefits of doing business with a Maryland bank or financial institution.