Why these community banks joined ICBA

Each ICBA member bank has its own reason for joining. Independent Banker asked the newest ICBA members what made them decide to join the nation’s only association dedicated to community banks. Here’s what they said.

By Eric Best

Community banks face plenty of obstacles, from competition from tax-advantaged credit unions to complying with many and varied regulations.

However, they’re rising to the challenge and overcoming hurdles together. Becoming an ICBA member is part of many banks’ strategies for supporting an equal playing field for similar financial institutions.

“I think it’s important as a community bank to support organizations that represent us,” says Bill DeBruyckere, president and CEO of $87 million-asset Oakwood Bank in Whitehall, Wis., which became an ICBA member this year. “We don’t have time to get together individually, so we need to have some type of an organization to represent us, and it seems logical that we would support an organization that in turn supports us.”

ICBA membership comes with plenty of benefits (see sidebar on page 98), but the community bankers we spoke to agree on one thing: One of the most valuable is the chance to benefit from—and support—ICBA’s advocacy activities and to stay up to date on the most pressing issues facing today’s community financial institutions.

An organization that will fight for community banks

Community bankers at several of ICBA’s newest member banks say at the core of their reason for joining is advocacy: the opportunity to support a national network of relationship bankers in legislative battles in Washington, D.C., and in legislatures across the country.

Quick stat

$3.4 trillion

of loans have been funneled to consumers, small businesses and farmers by community banks

Source: ICBA

ICBA is fighting battles worth fighting and has generated wins for community banks, these members say. Guy Sims, chairman, president and CEO of $305 million-asset Shamrock Bank in Coalgate, Okla., called out ICBA’s efforts to get S.2155, or the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, passed in 2018 as a success for member banks.

“[ICBA] laid a lot of the groundwork for that, and I think that was a major win for the community banking industry,” he says. “We all know how it is Washington. Things turn slowly. It’s not going to happen overnight. You have to keep constant pressure on the politicians if you’re ever going to make any headway, and that’s what ICBA does for us. Slow, steady pressure is what ultimately helps you get change.”

“You have to keep constant pressure on the politicians if you’re ever going to make any headway, and that’s what ICBA does for us. Slow, steady pressure is what ultimately helps you get change.”
—Guy Sims, Shamrock Bank

Those battles are worth fighting, because community banks play an integral role in the lives of the farmers, small-business owners and other customers they serve, Sims says. Community banks serve as the only physical financial institution in one in five U.S. counties, with a vast majority located in rural areas of the country, according to the FDIC.

“Community banks are the lifeblood of rural America,” Sims says. “We’re the only game in town in most of these communities, and if we’re gone, there’s no economic engine to drive it. Whatever we can do to protect our industry and our franchise, we all have to play a part in that, and ICBA gives us a way to have a national voice.”

‘We need industry people to guide us’

Many of ICBA’s newest members look to ICBA for leadership and guidance in today’s rapidly evolving banking industry.

Alan Hargett, president and chief operating officer of $1.1 billion-asset Planters Bank in Indianola, Miss., says his community bank benefits from ICBA staff and partners learning the ins and outs of regulation, such as those surrounding the Current Expected Credit Losses (CECL) standard, Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering (BSA/AML), and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). When changes are on the horizon, Hargett says, he needs to be able to prepare, and industry leaders like ICBA help community bankers like him to do that.

“We need industry people to guide us, to tell us what’s coming,” he says. “I don’t have the manpower to go out and learn every single [regulation]. These things are not two-page summaries. I need somebody to understand it, to cut through the chaff to help us get to the bottom line.”

“We need industry people to guide us, to tell us what’s coming.”
—Alan Hargett, Planters Bank

Expertise when it’s needed

Rick Stevens and his wife, Jean, attended ICBA LIVE 2019 in Nashville, Tenn.

Beyond regulation and compliance, smaller financial institutions don’t always have in-house personnel on topics like cybersecurity, fintechs, deposit growth, marketing or payments, so community bankers like Rick Stevens, president and CEO of $48 million-asset State Bank of Bellingham in Bellingham, Minn., say they rely on organizations like ICBA to obtain valuable insight about important topics like these. They get this information through live educational events, online webinars, routine outreach and other channels. “We do not have the staff to concentrate much time in these areas, and by utilizing the resources of ICBA and [our state association], these areas can be managed effectively and efficiently,” Stevens says. “Our small staff must wear many hats, and by utilizing the expertise of the ICBA and [our state association], our staff can accomplish the tasks at hand.”

“Our small staff must wear many hats, and, by utilizing the expertise of the ICBA and [our state association], our staff can accomplish the tasks at hand.”
—Rick Stevens, State Bank of Bellingham

ICBA events are uniquely tailored to the mission and needs of its member bankers. Whether it’s ICBA LIVE or the Capital Summit, no other organization draws a national audience of community bankers like ICBA, which has made them useful networking opportunities for new members.

Julie Dent-Zajicek, president and CEO of $70 million-asset Panora State Bank in Panora, Iowa, attended ICBA LIVE 2019 in Nashville, Tenn., as did Stevens. They agreed that the national convention offers opportunities to discuss current issues with fellow community bankers. “I enjoyed all aspects of the convention, including the education and networking opportunities,” Dent-Zajicek adds.

In Planters Bank’s first year as a member, Hargett wasn’t able to go to ICBA LIVE, but he’s hoping to attend or send another member of the community bank to next year’s convention in Orlando, Fla. He has, however, found time to participate in an ICBA workshop focused on mergers and acquisitions in Nashville.

“I go to a lot of conferences, and I get a lot out of the other members. Peer interaction is huge for me, and that kind of leads me to where I want to go,” Hargett says. “With a lot of these [ICBA events], I like just to go check out and see. I’m a new member. Let me see what I’m missing.”

Meeting with your fellow community bankers has its own rewards beyond simply education. Hargett adds: “I can get all the handouts in the world—and I’ve gotten them—and I can talk to the orientation staff, but until you go, and you see it and then talk about how other people are utilizing some of the different processes, it always opens my eyes.”

3 ICBA member benefits you should know about

  1. ICBA ThinkTECH Network
    The community banking industry sees innovations coming from a seemingly endless array of fintechs, so when you’re looking to find a fintech vendor, the decision of which to partner with can be daunting. The ICBA ThinkTECH Network, a one-stop shop of community bank-friendly fintechs that rolled out earlier this year, features a search tool of vetted solution providers.ICBA wrapped up its ThinkTECH Accelerator program earlier this year. The program engaged eight early stage fintech companies to produce solutions tailored to the needs of community banks by working directly with member banks. Visit
    icba.org/thinktech to learn more about the participating fintechs and what they offer.
  2. ICBA Solutions Directory
    In addition to a network of potential fintech partners, ICBA offers a directory, available at icba.org/solutions, of preferred service providers, corporate ICBA members and other companies offering an array of solutions and services to community banks at a discount for members.
  3. Career development tools
    As your community bank grows, you may need bank officers with training in IT, compliance and other programs. ICBA offers several compliance-related certifications, including the Bank Compliance Checkup Program and compliance certification, to get bank staff up to speed. ICBA’s Community Banker University (CBU) offers a wide variety of career development tools for community bank staff, from auditing and leadership development to lending and marketing. There are webinars, events or certification programs for all levels of the bank. Visit icba.org/education for more information.

Eric Best is deputy editor of Independent Banker.