Taking Charge Means Taking Part

By John Ikard

Implicit in this magazine’s cover story about ABA’s beginning is an important lesson: that bankers must take charge of our own destiny. It’s worth remembering this as we absorb news of legislative and regulatory proposals, technological innovations and other opportunities and threats affecting banking.

Some may think that today is different, citing the likes of Apple Pay, Square and Google Wallet, or the avalanche of regulation descending upon us from the Dodd-Frank Act. These are formidable challenges, to be sure. But banking’s pioneers faced their own unique challenges and met them. That explains why one in three banks today has been in business for more than a century—and two in three for more than 50 years.

To survive and thrive in our current period of transformation, we must follow their example—and set our own. That means, among other things, supporting one another by engaging in state associations, ABA and industry affairs. ABA began as an association by bankers, for bankers, and your active involvement is essential to maintaining that identity.

We also can support each other by lending our voices, our expertise and our grassroots strength to efforts to create a better policy environment in Washington. Public policy is, after all, the greatest force influencing banking today.

I can tell you I’ve lost more money with the stroke of a pen in Washington than in any credit crisis. A single rule can determine whether our banks stay in a business or get out. Whether we make money on a service, offer it at a loss or don’t offer it all. And while we have made progress recently in persuading policymakers to better tailor their rules and supervision—to recognize the industry’s diversity—we have much more work to do.

That’s why programs that help bankers connect with lawmakers and rule-writers are so important and deserving of your attention. ABA alone offers several: the Government Relations Summit, which more than 1,000 bankers attended this year; the ABA-state association Washington Visit program, which brings more than 1,400 bankers to Washington every year; Amplify, a website full of grassroots resources; and “Take Your Lawmaker to Work Week,” which ABA is launching this summer.

There are also several ways to engage on the political side. Contributions to BankPac help elect men and women who support the banking industry, while donations to ABA’s 501(c)(4), the Financial Education and Advocacy Initiative, help provide resources to educate policymakers and the public and conduct independent expenditures in congressional elections. These are all important and necessary tools. We need to do everything we can to align politics with policy so our customers, communities and institutions can thrive.

At ABA’s National Conference for Community Bankers earlier this year, a banker perused a display we had set up illustrating ABA’s history. She was impressed and pleased—and perhaps a little surprised—to learn that ABA’s founding was inspired by the women’s suffrage movement.

It’s ironic that some bankers today feel like they are the ones who are disenfranchised—as if Washington has plugged its ears to our concerns. But recently I have sensed a shift—an improved understanding of the role banks play in hometowns across America and a desire by policymakers to support that role. I attribute this shift to bankers stepping up and telling their story. You have followed in the example of ABA’s founders and helped take charge of banking’s future—a future that can be as bright as we want it to be, if we all play our parts.