Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed a career regulator to head the state's Department of Financial Institutions yesterday.

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Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed a career regulator to head the state’s Department of Financial Institutions yesterday, pleasing an industry frustrated at times with the previous director’s strong focus on consumer protection.

Gregoire charged Scott Jarvis, 56, with giving the state’s banks, credit unions and other financial institutions a predictable and stable regulatory environment in addition to being a watchdog for consumers.

“We need to restore a balance to the regulatory environment in Washington,” Gregoire said.

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The department regulates a wide range of companies, including state-chartered banks and credit unions, mortgage brokers, check-cashing businesses and securities dealers.

Helen Howell resigned as director, effective Feb. 25. Jarvis will take the helm March 28.

“Scott recognizes that we as an industry want to be able to serve our clients in the most fair and equitable manner we can. Helen’s point of view was one of more skepticism,” said Marc Gaspard, president of the Washington Financial League, which represents thrifts.

Howell stepped up enforcement of consumer-protection regulations and oversaw a television, radio and billboard campaign to educate consumers about predatory lending. But many bankers complained she was critical of the industry rather than working with them as a partner.

Jarvis, a New York native who moved to Washington in 1973 to attend law school at the University of Puget Sound, describes himself as “reasonable, rational, with a pretty good consumer-protection bent.”

“If the industry misbehaves, we slap the individuals who misbehaved,” Jarvis said. “We’re talking about a few people, not a lot.”

Jarvis has 27 years of regulatory experience, most of them with the state Office of Insurance Commissioner. He left there in 1993 to serve as legal counsel in the state treasurer’s office, then to work in the financial institutions department.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler hired Jarvis away from there in 2001 to be deputy insurance commissioner for consumer protection.

“He has an ability to work with the industry and a strong moral compass personally to protect consumers,” said Kreidler, who named attorney John Hamje to succeed Jarvis.

John Bley, a former director of the Department of Financial Institutions, called Jarvis’ appointment “an outstanding choice of a seasoned professional.”

“He treats people with trust and respect, and that will build morale in the agency and certainly engender trust out in the industry,” Bley said.

As recently as last week, Jarvis was considered neck-in-neck for the position with David Kroeger, another longtime regulator.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com