Realize your power at the 2018 ICBA Capital Summit

Attend the 2018 ICBA Capital Summit and realize your power.

By Kelly Pike

Brad M. Bolton has a packed schedule. Like many of his peers, the president and CEO of $142 million-asset Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, Ala., has more things to accomplish than there are hours in the day. Yet he always clears his calendar for one event each spring: the ICBA Capital Summit in Washington, D.C.

For the past five years, Bolton and more than 1,000 other community bankers have come together to tell the community banking story to our elected officials on Capitol Hill. They share their real-life experiences of building communities and the economy, of advocating for Main Street and of fending off credit unions and megabanks.

“ICBA does a great job [of] fighting for us on a daily basis, but there is nothing like community bankers … meeting one-on-one [with legislators],” Bolton says. “It makes a tremendous impact.”

Industry perspective—ICBA chairman Scott Heitkamp spoke at the 2017 Capital Summit.

In May, community bankers will once again converge on Washington to make their mark and to have a front-row seat as Cam Fine steps down after a successful 15-year run as ICBA’s president and CEO. Rebeca Romero Rainey, a third-generation community banker and past ICBA chairman, will succeed him. Fine, named a top lobbyist by The Hill newspaper for nine consecutive years, will give one last fiery speech, demonstrating the passion that raised ICBA’s profile on Capitol Hill and throughout the country as he steered the association through the financial downturn with unwavering commitment.

One of Fine’s greatest victories came during the 2017 Capital Summit, when more than 100 community bankers were invited to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who support community bankers’ desire for regulatory reform.

Capital connections—Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) met with community banker constituents at the 2017 Capital Summit.

Planning visits
Visits with members of the House and Senate are just as critical to the cause, if not more so. Last year, nearly every summit attendee visited with at least one member of Congress, and several met with senators, representatives and their key staff members.

Before community bankers arrive on Capitol Hill, ICBA makes sure they are ready with talking points. Jill Starkey, senior vice president and chief financial officer at the $100 million-asset 1st Advantage Bank in St. Peters, Mo., attended her first Capital Summit in 2017 because she was eager to understand how legislation becomes banking regulation. She admits she knew little about politics and was nervous to talk to members of Congress. A briefing from ICBA prior to her appointments alleviated her concerns.

“They prep you with the things you need to be speaking [about] with senators and representatives,” Starkey says. “When you’re feeling comfortable, you can say what’s on your mind. You’re not going to get any change if you don’t ask for it.” She adds that she was surprised to see that members of Congress “actually do listen to bankers and try to get other members of Congress on board.”

Playing tourists—ICBA president and CEO Cam Fine, fourth from left, and Capital Summit attendees explored the Newseum in Washington, D.C., as part of the Capital Summit.

Gary Oltmann, president of the Stuttgart office of $170 million-asset Arkansas County Bank, agrees. “It’s a very helpful meeting that kicks it off,” says the four-time attendee. “There are certain things we don’t deal with in our market, like credit unions, and [the meeting] helps put [them] back in the forefront so we can talk to our [members of Congress] about the issues.”

Last year, Bolton, the Alabama delegation and several Congress members, along with several spouses, chiefs of staff and legislative directors, enjoyed meals together, which helped build relationships. “We can discuss a wide range of issues in [a] captive, more leisurely setting,” he says.

Working together—Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared on stage with Cam Fine at the 2017 Capital Summit.

The future of banking
Last year, Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and others spoke to attendees during ICBA’s first-ever Future of Banking Symposium. The event, which will also take place this year, provided expert insights on an ever-changing industry. Fox News anchor James Rosen offered an insider’s view of Washington.

Other educational opportunities include Dawn-Buster sessions on hot topics, peer networking during daytime sessions and evening gatherings at some of D.C.’s most celebrated spaces.
At a time when many community bankers are concerned about expenses, Bolton says the summit is cost-effective and a worthwhile investment.
“I never regret the amount I expend for the [Capital Summit],” he says. “ICBA makes it very economical with the group rate. It’s a very inexpensive trip for the exposure you get with your delegation.”

Sunflower State—Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), standing, fifth from right, met with members of the Community Bankers Association of Kansas at last year’s Capital Summit.

Whether it’s to better understand the legislative process or to build on existing relationships, Bolton says the summit gives community bankers the tools and opportunities to be heard and demonstrate their power.

“In the words of [ICBA chairman] Scott Heitkamp, we are difference-makers, and the only way to do that is to be engaged and part of the game,” he says. “If it’s not us, who is going to speak for us? The old saying fits well: ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’”

Kelly Pike is a writer in Virginia.