The Independent Voice


By Rebeca Romero Rainey, Chairman of ICBA

Don’t you just love going to the Department of Motor Vehicles? Is there an experience more efficient and agreeable than resolving a dispute with your cable provider? Personally, I cherish those moments attempting to connect over the phone with a human being at an airline, especially when a flight is canceled.

Just kidding, of course. These entities have little reason to invest in high-quality customer service, which is why dealing with them is such a drag. Whether the result of government inefficiency or monopoly power, service suffers when there is little or no competition. Without market rivals, monopolies have no incentive to distinguish themselves to their customers. You don’t have to stand out from the crowd when there is no crowd.

This is a familiar and fundamental concept to community banks and other private enterprises, which compete in the marketplace and prove their worth every day. As independent financial institutions, we have to meet the unique needs of our customers and communities to stay in business. Our customers are free to allocate their resources as they see fit, and we have to prove again and again that we are their best choice. This keeps us nimble and adaptive—hallmarks of community banking.

This principle of competition is also something we count on as consumers. Simply put, freedom of choice is an essential part of our economic system, one that supports efficiency and growth through competition. But the market can for many reasons bend toward monopoly, anticompetitive behavior and a loss of consumer choice. It can replace equilibrium with distortion, individuality with collusion, autonomy with coercion. Even more disturbing, it can silence the independent voice, a tenet upon which our country and industry are built.

As an industry, we organize under the umbrella of community bank trade associations to maximize the strength and the volume of our independent voice at the national and state levels. We work together and take collective action—not to corner any market, but to allow ourselves to retain our independence within political and economic systems dominated by powerful and wealthy forces. We must fight to preserve that independent voice amid the loud, droning dirge of those seeking to stifle and control us through consolidation.

That independent voice must not be lost to the forces of concentration and appropriation. It must not be drowned out. We owe it to ourselves and our local communities to ensure our voices are heard. That is exactly why ICBA and our nation’s independent state community banking associations work tirelessly with a single-focused mission to serve community banking and only community banking. As consolidation sweeps through our economy in these post-crisis times, threatening to place immense power in the hands of a select few, retaining our independent voice is more important than ever.

While the banking industry’s largest entities work to crowd community banks out of the market like weeds taking over a summer garden, we can’t forget the role we play as independent institutions. By choosing independence, authenticity and collective action—by choosing not to be silenced—community banks and our representatives at the national and state levels will continue to truly stand out from the crowd. And we can continue to do what we do better than anyone else—serve the needs of local customers and communities—for generations to come.

Rebeca Romero Rainey is chairman and CEO of Centinel Bank of Taos, in Taos, N.M.