By Evan SparksSeveral years ago, Dick Evans—then the chairman and CEO of Frost Bank in San Antonio—was urging his friend and peer Scott Dueser to come to an international bankers’ gathering. As chairman, president and CEO of First Financial Bank in Abilene, Texas, now a $7.2 billion institution with branches across the state, Dueser didn’t feel like he had the time.
Attending the annual meeting of the International Financial Conference “is the most educational thing I do all year long,” Evans told Dueser.
Dueser kept putting him off, but in 2013, Evans finally said: “We’re going to Dubai this year. You need to join. You’re going.”
“Well, I went, and I was smitten,” Dueser recalls. He’s been an active member ever since.
The IFC is an intimate annual gathering limited to 35 top leaders from midsize, regional and internationally active banks. Current members hail from 12 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The meeting is held in a different country every year.
“It has been an outstanding experience for me personally and a value for our company to build international relationships,” says Evans, who retired from Frost in 2016. “Because it’s small, it gives us the ability to sit around the table wherever we’re meeting and not only grow from the talks we’re hearing but to build strong personal relationships.”
Last year, the program was held in Vienna, with a focus on Eastern Europe and included a tour of a bank in nearby Slovakia. The bank was the first independent bank founded in the country during the post-communist era, and its leader has since become an IFC member. “This guy has probably the best tech I’ve ever seen anywhere,” says Dueser, who notes that through the IFC he has learned in-person about where other countries’ banks are on the spectrum of technological development. “We’re way behind in the payments system in the United States,” he says.
This past spring, Dueser and Evans co-hosted the IFC in Dallas—the first time since the conference began in 1979 that it has been held in the United States. “How do I outdo what happened in Vienna?” Dueser asked himself. They delivered a program that was rich in Texas business and policy insights, as well as some classic Lone Star State entertainment.
Speakers at this year’s IFC included a “who’s who of business leaders in Texas,” Dueser says, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Texas business legend Paul Hobby, Wells Fargo head of innovation Steve Ellis, Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly, global real estate developer Ross Perot Jr. and ExxonMobil senior adviser Todd Onderdonk. Attendees also toured the Dallas Fed.
Evans hosted a dinner at the George W. Bush Library with a talk by Joni Carswell, executive director of Laura Bush’s conservation charity Texan by Nature. Meanwhile, Dueser hosted a dinner and reception at the ranch of country music radio legend Bob Kingsley and his wife, Nan, who breed cutting horses. The IFC isn’t all banking; its programs “focus on culture, on business, on a little bit of everything,” Dueser says.
Dueser is looking forward to next year’s program in Sydney, Australia. Everywhere he travels for IFC, he’s learned something that has broadened his perspective. “It’s a fact that we’re in a world economic situation today.”
And beyond the personal benefits, each new global relationship forged at the IFC brings value back to the bank, says Evans. “When you understand from those organizations that have been doing international business for years and years, you learn how it’s done, and it’s no longer a mystery,” he explains. “We at Frost are a relationship bank. [Via IFC] I can have relationships with international bankers, and through them, I can better serve my customers.”
For more information about joining the IFC, contact ABA’s Mike D’Orazio.