Next Generation Advocacy

A young David Mason learned a life lesson at ICBA’s advocacy summits: Washington’s policymakers really are listening

By Tim Cook

At age 31, David Mason is almost an old hand at Washington advocacy for community banking. He participated in ICBA’s Washington Policy Summit the last two years, joining hundreds of other community bankers across the country to discuss policy issues with their congressional delegations.

Those experiences, particularly his first ICBA policy summit in 2012, provided a life-changing revelation, says Mason, a business banking officer with American Bank Center in Bismarck, N.D. He discovered that Washington’s lawmakers—and even its regulators—genuinely want to hear from community bankers. Even from relative lads like Mason.

“It really set up the concept in my mind that I can actually have a voice and can make an impact,” he explains.

Mason found that community bankers carry considerable credibility and respect throughout Washington. Policymakers want to hear from community bankers who will be affected directly by their actions or decisions. And they appreciate hearing from community bankers on wider economic issues, too, particularly on helping small businesses and local economies thrive.

“As community bankers, we have a really unique opportunity right now to express why the community bank model is better than big banks and better than credit unions,” Mason says. “We produce taxable income. We generate creative solutions for our customers because we’re profit driven. … We’re not too-big-to-fail.

“All these issues now, all of a sudden, are issues to the average American.”

At the Washington Policy Summit this past April, Mason joined community bankers in voicing support for legislation introduced by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and David Vitter (R-La.) to end federal subsidies for too-big-to-fail banks. He also helped inform lawmakers about ICBA-advocated regulatory relief measures for community banks. Last year, he helped encourage lawmakers to extend the Transaction Account Guaranty program and to stop harmful legislation that would have expanded business-lending authority for credit unions.

Because of those Capitol Hill office meetings, Mason says he has come to know and understand better the members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation—Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), a Senate Banking Committee member; Sen. John Hoeven (R); and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R). Those encounters also led to other communications with them after he returned home to Bismarck. “Now I’ve sent emails to those folks or I’ve made phone calls to them regarding things and gotten personal responses back,” he says.

That Mason was noticeably the youngest community banker in those Capitol Hill meetings only made lawmakers want to hear his perspective even more. “My voice sounded unique,” he suggests.

“When you step up and say, ‘This is what I care about and it actually makes a difference in the issue that our country is struggling with,’ I think that makes somebody perk up and listen a little bit more than who they normally hear from.”

Local roots

But Mason’s advocacy activities didn’t begin with ICBA’s Washington meetings. With encouragement from more seasoned co-workers at American Bank Center and at the Independent Community Banks of North Dakota (ICBND), he has been involved in talking publicly about community banks in North Dakota. Representing his community bank, he has served on nonprofit boards and has offered his professional perspective at local government hearings.

This year he became involved in issues in North Dakota’s legislature, mostly in discussions over bills involving repairman liens and the funding of real estate transactions. He also worked on a bill to remove a longstanding state tax on financial institutions.

But community and industry involvement is inherent in American Bank Center’s culture, he says: “You’re a community banker, you’re wanting to grow into being a community banker—then by golly, you should understand what those kinds of issues are. … It’s been expected that I’m going to make an impact in the community.”

Already a standout leader in the ICBND, Mason serves on the association’s board of directors and legislative committee. Earlier, he was instrumental in launching the ICBND’s emerging leaders program, a career development and mentoring group for North Dakota’s next generation of community bank senior managers.

Spurred by his state and national experiences, Mason says more young community bankers need to get involved in representing their banks and industry—at the local and state levels, or even at the national level with ICBA. He also urges senior colleagues to support and encourage young bankers in industry advocacy, which can be a valuable but too often overlooked dimension of a person’s career development.

“Getting involved in your state community banking association or at a national level requires some specific intent,” says Mason, quickly adding that it also requires hard work and a commitment to learning the relevant issues. “But the benefits are great, because getting involved in advocacy just inherently provides leadership training that you can’t get elsewhere.

“People want to hear your voice. People are interested in what your thoughts are. In a lot of cases, that’s pretty refreshing, I think.”

Tim Cook is ICBA senior vice president, publications.