In May, more than 400 community bankers attended the ICBA Capital Summit, where they not only learned about critical legislative issues but also met with lawmakers to discuss these issues. We spoke with some of them to get their insights on advocating for the industry.
By Colleen Morrison
When hundreds of community bankers from more than 40 states descend on Washington, D.C., for ICBA’s annual Capital Summit, it makes quite a statement.
“I always love going up there, because it gives you a different perspective,” says Lori Godfrey, executive vice president and chief of staff, government and regulatory relations for the Community Bankers Association (CBA) of Georgia. “While we’re only up there for one day, we do actually make an impact, and I think it’s really cool for our bankers to be able to see how the process works.”
The effects of effective advocacy
Each spring, the Capital Summit allows community bankers from around the country to have focused visits with their legislators. Bankers are broken into groups based on their geographies so that constituents speak directly with their members of Congress, senators and staffs. In addition, ICBA provides a background briefing before these meetings to help bankers prepare and to walk through key discussion topics.
While issues can run the gamut from year to year, meetings in 2022 focused on six key subjects:
- Tax fairness for rural prosperity
- A safe harbor for legal cannabis banking
- Closing the industrial loan company loophole
- Modernization of the tax code to restore a balanced and competitive financial landscape with credit unions and Farm Credit System lenders
- Necessary congressional oversight of digital assets
- Concerns over Small Business Administration (SBA) direct lending.
“For SBA lending, legislators didn’t seem to know that was going on,” recalls Tanner Johnson, president and chief executive officer at $58 million-asset Swedish-American State Bank in Courtland, Kan. “It was pretty well publicized that the SBA did the $500,000 loan as part of the EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] program, but I think SBA got to the end of that, and they had money left over, so they decided to spend everything that was appropriated to them. We encouraged [legislators] that we don’t need SBA doing direct lending. Everybody was receptive and said they were going to look into it.”
“There have been times where those members of Congress will actually use the exact language out of our emails, and I can turn around and share that with the bankers, and they’re like, ‘Oh, they listened to what I said.’”
On May 16, less than two weeks after the Capital Summit, SBA announced that it was closing its COVID-19 EIDL portal, the vehicle for these small business loans.
“Our message was, ‘Relieve regulatory burden that will allow [community banks] to do more SBA lending; don’t be a competitor,’” says John McNair, president and chief executive officer of CBA of Georgia. “I think that message was heard loud and clear. Can you say that we squashed that initiative? I don’t know, but I can certainly say that I believe we’ve had an impact. That’s the power of what that trip is all about.”
The network effect
The benefits of attending the Capital Summit extend beyond a few days in Washington. The relationships that community bankers make, both with their legislators and with one another, have a lasting impact.
“Staff up in D.C. have called us, and they’ll say, ‘Hey we’re getting ready to go to a hearing; this is the topic that’s coming up, what are you hearing from your bankers?’” says Godfrey. “We have built relationships with them through these Capital Summits, so they feel comfortable reaching out to us. There have been times where those members of Congress will actually use the exact language out of our emails, and I can turn around and share that with the bankers, and they’re like, ‘Oh, they listened to what I said.’ I think that it’s important for us to bridge that gap.”
For decade-plus Capital Summit veterans like Johnson, the overall experience—from the policy impacts to the connections forged with colleagues—warrants a return year after year.
“If you’re not at the table, you’re not in the conversation, and you’re just not going to be represented,” sums up Johnson. “But the community, the camaraderie and the relationships are what keep people coming back. In addition to going to the Hill, just having that network of people you can interact with is super beneficial.”
Tips for effective lobbying
Go local. Remind your legislators and their staffs that your community bank serves their district, and your customers are also their constituents. Tie your points back to their customer constituents and how policies will affect them.
Convey the community bank difference. Demonstrate how you are different from megabanks and credit unions. Use anecdotes and stories tied to your legislative requests to emphasize your commitment to your communities.
Seal the deal. Close the meeting with a reminder of your specific ask and ensure they know what you’re requesting and why.
Follow up. Send a thank you note to signal your respect for their time, build the relationship, reiterate your request and invite them to visit your bank when they’re in their home district.
For additional tips and ways to stay engaged year-round, visit ICBA’s virtual advocacy toolkit
Colleen Morrison is a writer in Maryland.