One of the great honors of serving on ICBA’s executive committee is the opportunity to attend and speak at state banking association conventions all across the country. It’s important to get out and meet fellow independent bankers face-to-face and see how they do business.
Years ago, the very first state association meeting I spoke at was before the South Dakota Community Bankers. Back then I encountered Dick Behl, Jack Hopkins and Greg McCurry (who was less than one week into the job), all of them dressed in Harley biker garb! This year, Ed Cooney, the outgoing chairman of the Community Bankers of Georgia, wore flippers and a snorkel and mask on stage and did a full monologue from the movie Caddyshack as part of his address during the association’s convention. As the board members of the Community Bankers of Iowa started their annual meeting this year entitled “Navigating the Future,” they all proceeded on stage dressed as the characters from Gilligan’s Island setting sail! Independent bankers indeed!
The attire and costumes may be different at each gathering, but the commitment, passion and dedication to our industry, our communities and our customers is the same wherever I go. We are bound together by common missions and desires, but we can also flourish within our own industry with our own independent style.
As I have traveled I have seen the different faces of leadership. I have seen the different faces of passion and dedication. I have heard loud and clear about hurdles we all face, but, more importantly, I have also heard stories of resiliency and success. I know firsthand how hard the work can be, but I see community bankers having fun in their banks, having fun at their conventions, and loving the good that we do for our customers.
Don’t let anybody discourage you from having fun! Don’t let anyone stereotype you or your community bank. Don’t shy away from being a leader in your community or our industry. Laugh, engage, energize! Don’t be afraid that not mirroring the “too big to fail” megabank will hurt you. Your uniqueness, your authenticity, your independence in your marketplace are your greatest strengths. We, as community bankers, have proven over and over again that our business model and core values will always prevail.
You have opportunity. Even in the face of regulatory burden and an unlevel playing field, you have opportunity to differentiate yourself and to lead. The Maryland Bankers Association’s convention theme this year was “See the Possible.” The Indiana Bankers Association’s event theme was “Balancing Act: Walking the Fine Line Between Challenge and Opportunity.”
Great possibilities continue in all of our unique marketplaces, where opportunities intermix with the challenges. And community banks have momentum. By being engaged, by working together, by working with ICBA, we can address the hurdles that face our industry. Then you can focus on helping your customers, whether it be in black leather chaps or flippers and snorkel … but maybe pass on that three-hour tour.
Rebeca Romero Rainey is chairman and CEO of Centinel Bank of Taos, in Taos, N.M. Follow her on Twitter at @romerorainey.