WASHINGTON - American Bankers Association members should have realized when they received the first flier in the mail that this was not going to be a typical convention.

Instead of a boring announcement begging participation they got invitations sporting the face of a ferocious tiger with "the competition" printed underneath. Full-color photos of bears and bulldogs on the next two pages symbolized customers and regulators.

Then came the hook:

"These are unconventional times, calling for new and sometimes unconventional strategies," the promotion stated. "That's what you'll find at the ABA Industry Forum. The UNconvention."

And that's exactly what more than 3,000 bankers are getting this week in San Francisco.

Former White House adviser David Gergen was scheduled to kick off the four-day forum Saturday, leading the first two sessions, on improving media relations and enhancing the industry's image on Capitol Hill.

Sunday sessions on the Internet and computer technology included a program titled "How to Avoid Being Roadkill on the Information Superhighway."

The ABA also was using the convention to launch Ben, the Bankers Electronic Network. The on-line service for bankers offers e-mail, peer group networking, and legislative updates.

Comptroller of the Currency Eugene Ludwig was scheduled to grab center stage this morning, addressing the crowd on the future of bank insurance sales. His talk takes on particular importance given last Wednesday's federal appeals court decision to allow banks to sell the products statewide from small-town branches. It also follows House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach's accusations that Mr. Ludwig is bullying the industry into opposing congressional efforts to restrict his ability to expand bank insurance powers.

Ricki Helfer, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., was scheduled for Tuesday, the event's final day. She was to explain her plan to downsize the agency after it absorbs more than 1,000 employees from the Resolution Trust Corp., which goes out of business at yearend.

Bankers also can learn about the latest in human resource management, with sessions on avoiding liability from wrongful termination suits and softer subjects such as "How to treat your employees like people."

The forums aren't all business. Four "lifestyle" sessions are planned to teach bankers how to fully enjoy their vacations and how to keep fit while traveling.

The ABA installed audience response pads to spice up the forum discussions. Bankers are able to key-in their response to various questions posed during the presentations.

"What we have tried to do is a bit of a departure from the conventional convention, where you have speakers standing at podiums," said Virginia Dean, ABA's executive director of communications and the convention's organizer. "This time we have tried to focus on some real critical issues that should have an impact on their current and future successes."

Ms. Dean said the ABA wants bankers to understand that the industry is in a period of flux.

"If banks don't rise to the challenge, they will lose market share," she said. "They will be seen as not being flexible, as not meeting customer needs."

The ABA, which last held its convention in San Francisco in 1991, has kept many of the event's most popular features, including, "Meet the Regulators" sessions with top officials from the FDIC, OCC, and the Federal Reserve Board.

The convention features 160 exhibitors in a 20,000 square-foot hall. "We've got everything from human resources services to strictly financial fund management, and everything in between," said Cary Gray, the ABA's exposition manager.

More than half the exhibitors are new to the ABA convention, Ms. Dean said.

The convention will be missing one element. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and the chief executives of most megabanks are in Washington for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund. Still, the chief executives from Mellon Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh, Boatmen's Bancshares of St. Louis, and Firstar Corp. of Milwaukee will attend.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.