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GRASSROOTS: Frustration drives bankers to more political effort E-mail

Many avenues give bankers a chance to join ABA’s “boots on the ground”

This article is an online companion to the ABA Banking Journal cover story for January 2012, “Washington Outlook 2012.” You can read the Digital Magazine of the cover story here.

That bankers on all levels feel more frustrated than in recent memory requires no more proof than about an hour’s chat at a banking conference. But is that level of angst translating into more involvement in the political and regulatory process to make things better? ABA experts say it is, both individually and institutionally.

“I heard more from members of Congress this year that they’d met with their community banker than before,” says James Ballentine, ABA senior vice-president of congressional relations and political affairs. “They seem to be making more use of the stories that bankers are providing them, and that’s extremely helpful to the industry.”

“The number of banks actively participating in grassroots activity is up,” says Bob Davis, executive vice-president for mortgage finance, risk management, and public policy. “But there’s also more and deeper participation at each bank.” The increasing complexity of banking laws and regulation means ABA needs more input than ever from banks’ specialists, who often can delve into specific details to a greater degree than more senior executives.




Talk To Power at ABA
Government Relations
Summit, March 19-21

ABA will hold its annual Government Relations Summit, which is open to bankers, bank board members, and state association executives only, March 19-21. Attendees hear from congressional, executive, and regulatory leaders, and time is set aside for visiting other leaders’ offices to make banking’s voice heard.
    The 2012 theme is “Talk to Power.”
     Featured speakers this year include Sen. Mark Warner (D.-Va.); Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R.); and Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball.”
    To learn more about the Summit, and the Women’s Leadership Forum that follows it on March 21, click here. 

“They are doing a lot to help us parse through some really complicated proposals,” says Davis. “We can’t make up our comment letters and testimony. We need to work hand in hand with people who run the businesses to find the biggest problems and the most workable compromises.”

ABA’s lobbying team has found additional evidence that bankers have committed to more involvement in policy. Wayne Abernathy, executive vice-president, financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs, says an increasing number of larger mid-sized banks have set up their own Washington offices. “They’ve decided that they need to have a presence here,” Abernathy says.

Adding more “boots on the ground” helps banking’s cause, and resident boots add to the industry’s muscle.

“Getting just one person to agree with you in Washington is not enough,” says Ken Clayton, chief counsel and senior vice-president of legislative affairs. “You need a majority of the House and Senate to agree, to get you where you need to go. And that takes a collective effort.”

ABA has long maintained an association of these players--the Legislative Liaison Advisory Council--and assists member bank lobbying offices with access to staff experts and other resources.

Ken Clayton says the dedicated lobbyists, pursuing specific issues of concern to their headquarters, complement ABA’s own efforts to draw out industry discussion and consensus. ABA does this on multiple levels, most formally through its network of councils. The ABA America’s Community Bankers Council serves in large part as a means of surfacing community bank priorities, says Clayton. The ABA Government Relations Council spans the spectrum of bank size. And the American Bankers Council, made up of mid-size banks’ leaders, has stepped up its efforts to provide input on specific issues and needs. The ABA Board, of course, includes membership from every bank constituency. The Mutual Institutions Council addresses some unique concerns of over 600 mutual banks.

“State bankers associations have in some cases been upping their engagement in federal policy, as well, and that helps us, doesn’t hurt us,” says Bob Davis.

ABA has been growing its grassroots operations as well, adding to its growing Direct Contact Bankers program. Among recent efforts is the new ABA Advocates program, which encourages bank employees and board members to take part in sending industry messages to legislators and regulators. Learn more about ABA grassroots programs here.

James Ballentine notes that banks still have an image challenge, and that is a battle best fought at the local level.

“It would help the industry, in the long term, if bankers told the industry’s story--their story--to the local media,” Ballentine says. Much of the damage to banking’s image has come from local coverage.

“If the story of the banking industry as an indispensable source of help to the community is going to get out, it will be in the local media,” says Ballentine. “And that’s something each bank can do the best job of explaining.”

— Steve Cocheo, executive editor
This article is an online companion to the ABA Banking Journal cover story for January 2012, “Washington Outlook 2012.” You can read the Digital Magazine of the cover story here.
[This article was posted on January 13, 2012, on the website of ABA Banking Journal, www.ababj.com, and is copyright 2012 by the American Bankers Association.]  
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