William Cooper, TCF Financial Ex-CEO Who Sued Fed, Dies at 73

  • He transformed a failing thrift into a Midwest powerhouse
  • Served two stints as chief executive in 30 years at the bank

William Cooper, who during his three decades at the helm of TCF Financial Corp. successfully steered the Midwestern company through two financial crises while suing the Federal Reserve and railing against the U.S. government’s bank bailout program, has died. He was 73.

He died Feb. 7 at a Minneapolis-area hospital, TCF spokesman Jason Korstange said Wednesday in a telephone interview. The cause was cancer.

William Cooper

William Cooper

Source: TCF

In 1985 Cooper was named chief executive officer at TCF’s predecessor, Twin Cities Federal Savings & Loan, which was foundering amid the nation’s thrift crisis. He oversaw the company’s initial public offering in 1986, rechartered it as a bank, introducing then-novel features such as debit cards and free checking accounts that attracted customers and saved the lender.

“Bill transformed our company more than once and mentored many great leaders,” Craig Dahl, the company’s CEO, said Wednesday in a statement. He “showed tremendous leadership and courage, pioneering numerous innovations in the banking industry.”

During Cooper’s tenure, TCF, based in Wayzata, Minnesota, expanded to more than 300 branches in Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Colorado, Wisconsin, Arizona and South Dakota and had $21.4 billion in total assets as of Dec. 31, 2016.

Surviving Hurricanes

Cooper likened his role to a ship’s captain. “When the hurricane hits, everybody looks toward the CEO, and they want to see someone steering the ship, smoking a cigar and telling people what to do,” he said, according to a 2015 American Banker story.

The thrift he took over in 1985 was saddled with risky loans. Cooper raised capital and began courting what he called the “Joe Lunch-Bucket” crowd.

“If you get a million and a half people who each keep a thousand bucks in the bank, that’s a lot of money,” he said.

After retiring in 2006, Cooper was persuaded to return as CEO two years later amid the financial crisis. With the housing market collapsing, he switched the bank’s focus again, this time emphasizing specialty lending to commercial customers nationwide.

Cooper earned a reputation as TCF’s fierce protector and advocate. In 2010, the company sued the Federal Reserve to block a Dodd-Frank Act regulation limiting the fees charged to retailers on debit-card transactions. TCF argued that the rule, known as the Durbin Amendment, made large banks less competitive by forcing them to offer debit-card services below cost while exempting smaller firms.

Fed Fight

The provision was akin to Congress telling Burger King “you can only charge for the hamburger and the bun,” Cooper said. “Ignore all the costs of the overhead and the cooks and the advertising.”

TCF dropped the suit in 2011 and regulators raised the amount banks could charge.

He also loudly objected to being billed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. during its clean-up of the financial crisis, pointing out that the bank had never made a subprime loan and hadn’t lost money since 1995. TCF was among the thousands of banks and lenders insured by the FDIC that were hit with increased fees to raise $27 billion for the agency’s depleted coffers.

“I’m kind of bitter,” Cooper said in 2009. ”We pay for the excesses of our competitor over and over again.”

By the time he retired again in 2015, the bank was in sound financial shape. TCF “leaves its competitors in the dust,” said Steven Alexopoulos, a managing director at JPMorgan Chase & Co., according to American Banker.

Detroit Roots

William Allen Cooper was born July 3, 1943, in Detroit, according to Marquis Who’s Who. His mother was a clerk for the New York Central Railroad and his father, a member of the United Auto Workers union, died when Cooper was young.

In 1967, Cooper received a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, paying tuition by working as a policeman.

Before joining TCF, he worked as an auditor at Touche, Ross & Co. in Detroit, according to the statement. In 1971, he became a vice president at the Michigan National Bank of Detroit. He then moved on to Huntington National Bank in Columbus, Ohio, in 1978, rising to president. He became president of the American Savings & Loan Association of Florida in Miami in 1984.

In 1997, he served as chairman of Minnesota’s Republican Party. He was also founding chairman of Friends of Education, a nonprofit charter school network in the state.

Cooper was TCF’s executive chairman at the time of his death. Survivors include his children: William Cooper Jr., Christine Scott, Robert Cooper, Brian Cooper, Kelly Young, Ashley Cooper, and Lauren Cooper, according to TCF’s spokesman.

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