Robert S. Nichols (born January 3, 1969) is an American association executive and former public official. He is currently the president and CEO of the American Bankers Association. He was previously president and CEO of the Financial Services Forum from 2005 to 2015 and an assistant secretary at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George W. Bush administration.
Nichols was born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1969. He was raised in Seattle and moved to Washington, D.C., to attend George Washington University. He is a Sigma Alpha Epsilon Alumni Association member
After graduation in 1991, he worked in the White House in the George H. W. Bush administration and served as an aide to then-Transportation Secretary Andy Card. After the Bush administration ended, Nichols held positions with the Washington state Republican Party; as a senior aide for the late Rep. Jennifer Dunn and former Sen. Slade Gorton; and as communications director for the Electronic Industries Association. In 1995, he married his wife, Rebecca, whom he met at GWU. They have two children.
In early 2001, Nichols was named deputy assistant Treasury secretary for public affairs in the George W. Bush administration, serving as the Treasury Department's spokesman. In April 2003, Bush nominated Nichols as assistant secretary for public affairs. He was confirmed in August 2003 and sworn in by Treasury Secretary John Snow. As assistant secretary, Nichols oversaw all public affairs for the department and led efforts to educate the American people about tax and currency policy, debt management, Social Security and Medicare financing, and international issues that impact the U.S. economy. Nichols is a recipient of the Alexander Hamilton Award, the highest honor of the Department of the Treasury.
In 2005, Nichols was hand-picked to lead the non-partisan Financial Services Forum, which was at the time located in New York City. The forum represents 18 CEOs of America's largest financial firms, including banks, insurers, and asset managers. Nichols relocated the organization to Washington, D.C., and worked to raise its profile, educating the public about the importance of robust capital markets, encouraging a competitive global marketplace, and shaping the national and international regulatory dialogue.
Time referred to the forum as "perhaps the country's most powerful trade association," Nichols is frequently cited by the news media on capital markets and financial services issues. He was regularly quoted in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and frequently appears on CNBC, Fox Business Network and Bloomberg. He has testified on several occasions before the House Committee on Financial Services and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, two key congressional committees that oversee the financial services industry.
From 2009 to 2014, Nichols was recognized by The Hill newspaper as one of the most effective trade association leaders in Washington, D.C.The New York Times called Nichols "among the most powerful lobbyists in Washington," in 2011. In November 2011, Nichols was included on The New Republic's list of Washington's most powerful, least famous people. In 2010, CEO UPDATE also named Nichols one of the year's top trade association leaders.
While he represented large financial institutions, Nichols also expressed concern for smaller community banks. In 2013, he wrote an op-ed for Politico stating:
As president of the Financial Services Forum, I spend most of my time focused on the policy priorities and unique economic value provided by large diversified financial institutions. But I also am increasingly concerned about the condition and policy challenges of smaller institutions -- particularly community banks, an equally indispensable element of our financial system.... The prospects for economic growth and job creation are inextricably linked to the prospects of community banks, along with the health of the broader financial system. By improving the circumstances for community banks by way of substantial regulatory relief, we will not only ensure a more equitable playing field but also give our still-struggling economy a much-needed boost.
During Nichols' tenure, the forum also co-chaired Engage China, a coalition of 12 financial trade associations pushing for greater access to Chinese markets for overseas firms and more financial liberalization in Chinese markets.
In May 2015, Nichols was named president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, the nation's largest trade group representing banks of all sizes. Since being appointed, Nichols has expressed interest in lessening the regulatory burden on banks, unifying institutions of all sizes, engaging millennials in banking and converging the financial and technology sectors.
In a 2015 American Banker article, he stated:
Focusing on issues that unite all the ABA members is critically important -- this issue of marketing to millennials, this issue of getting the convergence between banking and technology right. It doesn't matter if you're the largest member, or the very smallest, you care passionately about those things. Having the ABA focus on things that unite all of the member banks regardless of size on the asset ladder is really important. No. 2, I do think the factioning -- the fact that there are different sizes drifting a little -- I think that does impact our influence. That's a message I've delivered to bank CEOs over the last two weeks of all sizes, small, medium, large, midsize, regional, saying, "We will be stronger together." That has really resonated with every single person I've talked to. They all get it.
The Washington Post has cited Nichols as one of the "new generation of trade group CEOs" taking an unconventional approach to lobbying to remake the image of trade associations. Nichols was also named one of the 'Top Lobbyist of 2015' by The Hill.
Nichols is former vice chairman of Food Allergy Research and Education, a nonprofit group that supports scientific research and allergy-related advocacy. FARE helped support the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which was signed in 2013. He is a Presbyterian and a member of the board of trustees of the National Presbyterian School.