Washington • Sheila Bair is stepping down as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. this summer, ending a five-year term in which she helped craft the government's response to the 2008 financial crisis.
Bair will leave her post on July 8 as one of the top banking regulators, the FDIC said Monday.
She was among the first officials to raise concerns about the explosion of high-risk lending to borrowers with bad credit. Under her tenure, the agency closed the most banks since the savings and loan crisis. That included Washington Mutual, the nation's largest bank failure.
The FDIC is charged with maintaining public confidence in the banking system. The agency guarantees bank deposits up to $250,000.
Vice Chairman Martin Gruenberg is considered a likely candidate to succeed her. He will become the acting chairman if the Obama administration doesn't appoint a replacement before Bair leaves.
Bair, 57, was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006. Within a year, she moved to shut down Santa Monica, Calif.-based Fremont Investment & Loan. The bank had been a major player in the troubled home-mortgage business, doling out high-interest loans to people with poor credit records or low incomes. It was the first of 365 banks closed during her time leading the agency.
Bair also advocated for consumers and small banks during the financial crisis, when most other regulators focused primarily on helping the biggest Wall Street firms. After the housing bubble burst, she argued unsuccessfully for the government to force banks to reduce monthly payments for troubled homeowners facing foreclosure.
Some, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized Bair for moving too slowly to recognize problems with IndyMac Bank, a failed California savings and loan and one of the first large casualties of the housing bust. The agency took over IndyMac in 2008.
But as part of the takeover, many borrowers' payments were lowered to a set percentage of their monthly incomes. The loan modification became a model for the government's later efforts to help those at risk of foreclosure.
Bair often disagreed with members of the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as industry executives and other regulators.
Most notably, she clashed with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner over a range of issues related to the Wall Street bailouts.