Open Observations

ICBA President and CEO Cam Fine, right, takes questions from community bankers during an informal “fireside chat.” ICBA President and CEO Cam Fine, right, takes questions from community bankers during an informal “fireside chat.”

ICBA’s Cam Fine offers real-world examples of leadership issues

In an informal, wide-ranging “fireside chat” at the LEAD FWD Summit, Cam Fine, ICBA’s president and CEO, candidly shared his views and answered questions from community bankers on leadership and why it matters.

The toughest job of a leader, Fine said, is to provide vision and look around corners to make sure problems don’t blindside an organization. “Tune into threats and opportunities,” he offered.

One corner Fine said he is trying to see around is how technology is changing financial transactions and how these changes may, or more likely will, impact community banks. “What keeps me up at night is what will the word ‘bank’ mean in 10 to 20 years,” he acknowledged. “My job is to make sure that community banks remain relevant.”

Fine concedes that technology is in the driver’s seat to significantly shape the industry’s future and urged community bankers to embrace technology and use it to become more competitive.

“We must harness technology, not fear it,” he said. “Then we become the disruptors.”The job of a leader is to overcome obstacles and challenges, Fine said, while acknowledging that can be a tall order. He recalled Walmart’s efforts several years ago to obtain an industrial loan charter from the FDIC, which would have seriously breached longstanding public policy walls that keep banking and commercial activities separate.

“Nine ‘suits’ from Walmart came up from Arkansas to our office and said, ‘We’re going to bury you,’” he recalled of the confrontation.
Though Walmart had far greater resources and ICBA had few banking allies willing to truly fight the cause, the association nevertheless met the challenge—and won against considerable odds.

“You’d better be able to stand up for your members,” Fine observed.
Fine also addressed a current leadership challenge: the lawsuit ICBA has filed against the National Credit Union Administration for its latest unlawful credit union member business lending rule. He noted that the lawsuit, which he said could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, will be expensive and time consuming.

When he asked those attending his talk about the lawsuit, “Are you with us?” the crowd responded with a burst of applause.
“My job is to defend you,” Fine concluded. “Leaders lead. If you don’t, why does anyone need a leader?”

—Judith Sears