By Brian Anderson
The past few years have felt like a hurricane of economic adversity for the financial stability of our nation. Extended periods of heavy economic headwinds have similarly battered the community banking industry and the communities they serve. Between over-aggressive regulatory encroachment and attempts at industry power grabs by tax-advantaged competitors, it seems that transitioning from crisis to crisis has become regular order in Washington.
Through it all, community banks have maintained their well-earned reputation in Washington as friendly, helpful and common-sense lenders to the local communities and Main Street businesses they serve. Yet as our nation continues to right itself from one of the worst financial crises in decades, community bankers need to be aware of the changing vigilance with which they need to approach advocacy as a core business practice, from the top, all the way down to the most junior employees at your bank.
The industry needs to begin thinking about advocacy in a new light, as more than an incidental, reactionary response. In this new environment, crisis is the new normal and vigilance, the new standard. The community banking industry needs to adjust to this new reality to be adequately prepared for the challenges on the horizon. It is incumbent on community bankers to recognize and develop ways to incorporate advocacy into their daily bank operations at all levels, and ICBA is here to assist you.
Like community banking, effective advocacy is a relationship business model. It requires you to do what already comes naturally as a community bank executive: creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with local stakeholders. But building and maintaining these relationships is no longer optional. It’s now vital to the continued growth and stability of the community banking industry, and it’s incumbent upon every ICBA member banker to take this duty seriously.
Here are a few ideas to get you started and thinking about how to more effectively establish solid relationships with one of the biggest influences on your bottom line, your congressional representation here in Washington. As always, ICBA staff is here to help you. Please feel free to reach out to me personally to help get you started.
ICBA Advocacy Checklist
• Check back often with ICBA’s Be Heard grassroots website for the latest advocacy updates on pressing community bank issues for you to act upon.
• Visit your lawmakers’ websites and determine the nearest district or state office. Call their office and introduce yourself to the district or state director. Invite them to visit your bank to discuss financial services issues.
• Call and introduce yourself to the Washington-based financial services or banking staffer for your senators and representative. Identify yourself, your bank and the communities you impact and help daily.
• Invite your members of Congress to visit your bank so they can get a hands-on feel for the challenges and regulatory pressure your bank faces as a smaller financial institution.
• Engage your lawmakers in new media, such as tweeting at your lawmakers from your bank or personal Twitter account. Click here to tweet to your senators. (A directory of House representatives’ Twitter accounts is currently in development.)
While the community banking industry faces a bevy of advocacy challenges, there are plenty of tools available to help community bankers make positive change. In this new normal of enhanced advocacy vigilance, ICBA is here to help community bankers reach the policymakers whose decisions will impact the future of our industry.
Brian Anderson (Brian.Anderson@icba.org) is ICBA director of congressional advocacy.