Planning for the Future

By John A. Ikard

Identifying the right person for an important job is always a weighty responsibility. Prep work is essential—if you’re off the mark when you identify the key criteria for the job, then your perfect candidate could end up being not so perfect.

But when you have a board as diverse as ABA’s—representing banks of all sizes and business models from all over the country—and an executive staff as experienced as ABA’s, the succession planning process becomes much more robust. The proof for that is in the person ABA ultimately selected to succeed Frank Keating as president and CEO: Rob Nichols, the subject of the ABA Banking Journal‘s latest cover story.

We had many informed voices sharing their insights about the challenges and opportunities our industry—and ABA—face. These stakeholders, including board members, member bankers, state association executives and ABA staff leaders, helped ABA’s search committee identify and refine the criteria needed in our next CEO.

The list of must-haves was long and specific. We wanted a visionary leader with demonstrated public policy acumen. Someone with a keen understanding of our banking and financial system and a proven track record in strategic management. And someone with sterling credentials as an effective Washington advocate.

Rob Nichols is that someone. What’s more, he has a uniformly positive reputation among other trade association leaders, policymakers and reporters alike. That’s a hat trick in Washington.

Rob’s task—and that of bank CEOs across the country—will be to ensure that America’s consumers and communities continue to have access to safe, reliable and trusted banking services—a prerequisite for growth and prosperity.

To do that, banks need regulatory flexibility to serve our customers. This includes tailoring rules to suit a bank’s risk profile. We need a level playing field so that government-subsidized—and less regulated providers—don’t displace banks, whose services and tax dollars support hometowns across the country. We also need to continue to serve as stewards of the payments system, balancing innovation with safety to ensure its integrity. And we need to erect ever-stronger cyber defenses while ensuring that all parties that handle customer payment information abide by bank-like data protection standards.

These essential goals are captured in ABA’s Agenda for America’s Hometown Banks. And they will be driving ABA’s advocacy over the next several months as our current and much-admired CEO, Frank Keating, turns the reins over to Rob.

Both Frank and Rob, a long-time advocate for the industry, understand the essential role banks play in their hometowns and the need for policy to support that role, not hinder it. That role is on display in the September/October edition of the ABA Banking Journal. Maryland Bankers Association President and CEO Kathleen Murphy provides a first-hand account of how MBA and member banks worked with community partners during and after the unrest in Baltimore this spring, and what they are doing to identify long-term solutions to the city’s challenges.

Other stories spotlight how Regions Bank and Operation Hope are tackling poverty in north St. Louis County, and how banks of all sizes work with the nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation to bring economic hope to long-distressed rural areas. The feature story on agricultural lending, too, spotlights how bankers are proactively helping their rancher and farmer customers navigate expected economic challenges.

Just as banks work to help their customers and communities grow, ABA’s mission is to help banks succeed. I’m confident that mission will be well served and well led by the appointment of Rob Nichols as your next CEO.