Call to Action: State associations spotlight

Steve Yeakel, Virginia Association of Community Banks, and Michael Tierney, Community Bankers of Michigan.

How state banking associations teamed up with ICBA to push the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S.2155) over the finish line.

By William Atkinson

The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S.2155), which became law on May 24, 2018, is the first bipartisan banking law to be enacted in a decade. It took a lot of coordinated teamwork among members of the banking industry to get the legislation passed.

In addition to ICBA’s advocacy work, among the most important contributors to the effort were several state banking associations, especially those whose states were represented by two Democratic senators.

“From the start, we saw this as a collaborative effort, and [it was] a long time building.”
—Steve Yeakel, Virginia Association of Community Banks

One such state was Virginia. “From the start, we saw this as a collaborative effort, and [it was] a long time building,” says Steve Yeakel, president and CEO of the Virginia Association of Community Banks (VACB) in Richmond. “The main message we wanted to get across to senators and representatives was that if they supported this bill, they would be supporting small businesses.”

In 2013, when the plan was first formulated, VACB brought 10 bankers to the ICBA Washington Policy Summit (now called the ICBA Capital Summit). Over the years, interest increased steadily, and VACB brought 26 bankers to this year’s Capital Summit.

“We held a board meeting the evening before each summit kicked off, and this became a great rallying point for everyone,” says Yeakel. “Throughout the process, we were guided by some very thorough planning, good strategies and a strong tactical focus from ICBA.”

When VACB first got involved in the S.2155 effort, members emphasized to their congressional delegation that the legislation would help community banks support small businesses and local economies in Virginia. “This immediately resonated with our members of Congress, chiefs of staff, legislative directors and financial services staff,” says Yeakel.

Quick stat

700

Number of Michigan bankers who wrote to their members of Congress in support of S.2155

Their efforts paid off when Virginia’s two senators, both Democrats, signed on. “Sen. Mark Warner is on the [Senate] Banking Committee, so he is very knowledgeable about the issues,” says Yeakel. “We knew from early on that he wanted to be active in some sort of reform effort that would provide some relief. We were also really encouraged when Sen. Tim Kaine joined the effort. … He was a solutions-oriented governor and now also seems to be a solutions-oriented senator.” Both senators eventually became original cosponsors of the bill.

In February 2018, Warner asked VACB members to meet with him and a group of small-business owners to discuss the benefits of the bill in Charlottesville. “We attended with about a dozen bankers,” says Yeakel. “The meeting not only went very well, but we also got great media coverage.”

VACB members then began to look at the role they could play with House Republicans after the Senate passage of the bill. “In late March 2018, we drafted a letter to them, asking them to pass S.2155 pretty much untouched,” says Yeakel. “Our key contact there was [6th District Virginia] Rep. Bob Goodlatte. We explained in the letter that a long, heated debate over banking regulatory relief would not be particularly good for Republicans in upcoming challenging races. So, we breathed a sigh of relief when we found out that the bill went through essentially unamended.”

Making waves in Michigan

Michigan is another state with two Democratic senators, Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters. “The key for us was visits to Washington, D.C.,” says Michael Tierney, president and CEO of the Community Bankers of Michigan (East Lansing). “In February, we visited with a number of bank CEOs and other senior bank executives from our state. We met with all of the members of the Michigan congressional delegation.”

The team visited again in April for the ICBA Capital Summit and brought another 20 bankers. “During that visit, we met with almost all of the Michigan congressional delegation again,” says Tierney.

“[Most of our legislators] were not in favor of relief for larger banks, so we focused on educating them about how this was relief for community banks in specific.”
—Michael Tierney, Community Bankers of Michigan

The Michigan team spent a lot of time meeting one-on-one with the individual chiefs of staff and office managers of all the state’s members of Congress. “Many of them, both Democrats and Republicans, asked for information on the bill,” says Tierney. “They wanted to be educated and wanted to understand how it would impact community banks. Many of them were not in favor of relief for larger banks, so we focused on educating them about how this was relief for community banks in specific.”

In addition, the association got more than 700 Michigan community bankers to write letters to their senators and representatives to encourage them to pass regulatory relief for community banks. “As an association, we provided [our members] with the tools they needed to do it, but they were the ones who actually took the time to write and send the letters,” says Tierney.

Another strategy that proved effective was when the Community Bankers of Michigan, the Michigan Bankers Association and the Michigan Credit Union League cosigned a letter that was sent to the entire Michigan congressional delegation. “I signed a letter with our ABA [American Bankers Association] and credit union counterparts in Michigan, and we sent this letter to our two senators and our 14 congressmen,” says Tierney. “The fact that all three state [financial trade] associations came together in agreement on this legislation sent a very powerful message to our senators and congressmen. It showed them that our interests were aligned.”

Ultimately, according to Tierney, both senators and all but two of the state’s congressmen voted for the bill—a testament to the power of advocacy.


William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.

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