It’s All About Advocacy

By Laurie Stewart

Speaking up and speaking out is one of the most important things bankers can do for the success of our industry. Whether it’s bringing a group of young leaders to the statehouse to talk about upcoming legislation or traveling to Washington to meet with delegates on Capitol Hill, it’s our job to see that elected officials understand the important role banks play in the economy—and in the day-to-day lives of their customers.

As a lifelong banker, I know that banking is about commitment to community. It’s a mission we dedicate ourselves to on a daily basis, when we work with customers to finance new businesses, help send children to college or purchase first homes. But, as important as this role is, it’s unrealistic to expect lawmakers to understand all the ins and outs of the industry given the many issues competing for their attention. That’s why it’s important to develop solid, working relationships with our elected officials—and offer them assistance as they deal with complex banking issues—whether it’s brokered deposits, cannabis banking or cybercrime. It allows us to serve as a resource, while also sharing our insights on pending legislation.

It’s the kind of constructive exchange I feel strongly about—because advocacy is a passion of mine. I still remember traveling to Olympia, Washington, at the age of 14 with my Girl Scout troop. We were thrilled to have the chance to meet a local representative in person and learn how government works. I don’t remember what I said during that meeting—and I wouldn’t be surprised if I tried to sell the staff Girl Scout Cookies on my way out the door—but I do know it was the moment when I found my advocate’s voice.

Suddenly the idea of a citizen legislature wasn’t just a history lesson—it was real—and I was part of the process. It’s not an exaggeration to say that that trip to Olympia changed my world view. I no longer thought about myself as simply a student or a Girl Scout—I was now part of something larger. And, having found my voice, I vowed to make it count.

Flash forward to today and my role as CEO of Sound Community Bank in Seattle. I’ve made a point of sharing my excitement with a new generation of bankers during our advocacy visits. I want my staff to learn, as I did, that as citizen bankers we have valuable information to impart. And, that the best way to do that, is to establish a working relationship with our representatives—and let them know that we are always ready to help.

To help in this process, the American Bankers Association and the state associations offer several resources. Each spring, ABA hosts the Washington Summit—the largest gathering of bankers each year in the nation’s capital to meet with lawmakers. Not only does this gathering leave its imprint on the corridors of Congress, it also provides the perfect opportunity to introduce the next generation of bankers to the value of advocacy.

In addition to attending the Summit, there are state association visits to Washington, meetings with regulators and other opportunities in D.C. and state capitals. It’s hearing personal anecdotes and experiences from bankers that moves the needle with policymakers.

For those looking to strengthen advocacy efforts at home there are countless ways to do so. You can schedule meetings with your representatives, attend a town hall gathering or take part in a virtual forum. You can also invite lawmakers to visit your bank as part of ABA’s Take Your Lawmaker to Work program. It’s a great way to show your representatives what it’s like to run a financial institution. And, if you schedule a visit with your compliance team, they’ll learn all they need to know about the growing cost of regulation!

What is the goal of all this advocacy? Forward-looking policy that will help our banks and communities grow. (You can read more on this agenda from our CEO, Rob Nichols.) ABA has created a new grassroots platform called Secure American Opportunity to assist in the process. It helps bankers get involved by writing to their representatives, commenting on regulatory proposals and taking part in other initiatives that will help move the ball forward.

During this upcoming election season, make advocacy a priority for your bank. We have everything to gain by working with lawmakers to advance strong public policies that will keep our communities strong.


About Author

Laurie Stewart, president and CEO of Sound Community Bank in Seattle, is the 2019-20 chair of the American Bankers Association.