Putting in the time

Building foundations—Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), third from left, welcomes community banker constituents to his office. From left to right: Reid Pollard, Enterprise Bank; John Wiggins, First National Bank of South Carolina; Russell Laffitte, Palmetto State Bank; Gwen Bunton, Bank of Walterboro; Jamie Bunton, Bank of Walterboro; and Vera Herbert, Carolina Bank & Trust.

South Carolina community bankers met with legislators during the August congressional recess to make their voices heard.

By Andrea Lahouze

Community bankers who have their legislators’ ears enjoy more support and achieve more progress on issues that matter to them than those who don’t. However, it takes work to gain and retain congressional attention. The August recess, when legislators return to their hometowns, presents a prime opportunity to create and nurture these valuable relationships.

This year, Teresa Taylor, executive director of Independent Banks of South Carolina (IBSC), arranged meetings for IBSC member community bankers with five congressmen from their federal delegation: Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rep. Jeff Duncan, Rep. Tom Rice, Rep. Jim Clyburn and Rep. Joe Wilson. A handful of community bankers attended each meeting, and several attended more than one.

Among the community bankers was Russell Laffitte, COO of Palmetto State Bank, a $550 million-asset bank in Hampton, S.C. Of principal concern for Laffitte and other attending bankers was an extension or replacement of the Flood Insurance Act, particularly in light of the extensive flooding that has affected South Carolina over the past two years.

Discussions also centered on support of the Clear Relief Act, concern over the HMDA expansion and the challenges of helping customers while complying with data reporting requirements set by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“It’s important for us to remind [members of Congress] that our banks want to help the consumers and that regulatory burdens hamper that ability,” IBSC’s Taylor says.
The community bankers opted not to raise the issue of credit unions’ power grab, a decision Laffitte believes was correct. “All of our delegates have heard this from us before, and it seems to put them immediately on the defensive,” he says. “By us avoiding this issue, it seemed to catch them off guard and they were very receptive and supportive of our concerns.”

“It is always easier to talk with and gain the support of a friend versus someone you do not know. We need to build relationships with our delegates to expect their support, just as we do with our customers.”
—Russell Laffitte, Palmetto State Bank

For other community bankers who desire to meet with members of Congress, Laffitte and Taylor recommend patience, flexibility on scheduling and a knowledge of bill content. Laffitte says it’s also helpful to know each legislator’s voting record. “This way, if they have supported the banking industry in the past, you can thank them for the past support and start the meeting with them feeling good,” he says.

This year’s meetings occurred in the congressmen’s offices, but Laffitte and Taylor hope to schedule several of next year’s meetings at local community banks to bring home the message of the industry’s hopes and concerns.

Laffitte admits that meeting with the delegates is time consuming but stresses that this type of advocacy is crucial for the community banking industry, especially given its emphasis on personal relationships. “It is always easier to talk with and gain the support of a friend versus someone you do not know,” he says. “We need to build relationships with
our delegates to expect their support, just as we do with our customers.

“You cannot leave it for others to do and expect the results that you want to see. We need every state and every bank to get involved with calling on their members of Congress. ”

Roll out the welcome mat

Download “Meeting on Main Street,” ICBA’s guide to hosting legislators at your community bank, at tinyurl.com/meetonmainstreet

Andrea Lahouze is deputy editor of Independent Banker.