WASHINGTON - The American Bankers Association is fishing for new members, much to the dismay of smaller trade groups that represent community banks.

The nation's largest trade group enlisted Furash & Co., a bank management consulting firm here, to conduct a survey last month asking both member and nonmember commercial banks what they sought from trade association membership.

"We periodically do this sort of thing," said Robert Wallgren, executive director of operations and finance for the ABA. "We send it primarily to members, but also to a sampling of nonmembers, so you get another perspective."

But the survey was sent to prominent members of the Independent Bankers Association of America, a group that has engaged in membership scuffles with the ABA in the past.

"They are trying to get some market share back from the IBAA," said a banking industry source. "Since they've got most of the major banks, they're probably looking at some pretty good profits to be made down at the lower tiers."

"They are having problems with their membership base, just like the IBAA is having problems with their community banking membership base, and they are preparing for the future," added a trade group source who requested anonymity.

The survey asked bankers to rate how heavily they rely on a number of different trade associations, including the IBAA, the Consumer Bankers Association, and the Savings and Community Bankers Association.

Respondents were also asked to choose from several reasons why they weren't members of the ABA, ranging from prohibitive costs to disagreeing with legislative positions. Bankers were also queried about what factors would cause them to consider joining the ABA.

A spokesman for Furash & Co. declined to comment on the survey.

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