Baraboo’s Peter Bildsten has left his post atop the state Department of Financial Institutions.
The longtime local banker says politics – particularly the governor’s proposal to merge state agencies – soured him on state service.
“Four years of state government has been just about enough,” Bildsten said with a chuckle.
His last day as DFI secretary was Friday. Bildsten was replaced by his deputy secretary, Ray Allen. Another Baraboo resident, former newspaperman George Althoff, will remain with the agency as communications director.
Bildsten said he was was dismayed by Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan, which calls for DFI to merge with the Department of Safety and Professional Services and the Office of Credit Unions in 2016. DFI is a lean and effective agency, Bildsten said, and he sees no benefit in a merger Walker proposed to streamline government.
When legislators asked Bildsten about the merger’s merits, he struggled to answer. “I never could get my arms around, or tout, the merger of these agencies,” Bildsten said. “It was change for the sake of change.”
Bildsten said an increasingly politicized atmosphere at the Capitol doesn’t suit the Department of Financial Institutions’ mission, which is to regulate banks.
When Walker approached him about leading the department in 2010, Bildsten cautioned the governor that he wasn’t interested in becoming a political activist. But when Walker’s policies sparked protests and a recall election, political pressure mounted even at small, service-oriented agencies like DFI.
“It certainly became more difficult as state government got more highly politicized the last few years,” Bildsten said. “It became a different environment, and not one I think is best for an effective regulatory agency.”
A Baraboo native, Bildsten served as president of the local branch of First National Bank (later Wells Fargo) from 1996 to 2008.
Bildsten said he isn’t sure what he’ll do next, but he’s considering full- and part-time work. “I’m exploring opportunities in the regulatory world and perhaps again the banking world,” he said.
“We’d like to offer our sincere thanks and gratitude to Peter Bildsten for four years of great service to the state of Wisconsin, leading the Department of Financial Institutions, and wish him well in his future endeavors,” Walker said in a statement.
The past four years haven’t been an easy time to regulate banks, Bildsten said, as the financial industry was in crisis. He closed a handful of banks and credit unions in his first 90 days on the job in 2011.
But he looks back with pride on leading an agency that accomplishes its mission with one of the nation’s smallest staffs and more than supports itself financially.
“I want to stay involved in the financial services industry,” Bildsten said. “I will look forward to doing something a little different.”