Army for Reform: Employees, Shareholders

In its efforts to influence reform proposals under review by Congress, the banking industry is ignoring the 1.52 million men and women who work at commercial banks and the many millions more who own stock in these organizations.

What an army these numbers can constitute as 100 senators and 435 representatives waver between bold, comprehensive reform and a cautious, step-by-step approach.

But so far this army has been silent.

That's the bad news. The good news is that there is still time to do something about the silence.

Alarming News

Just look at the headlines and count the number of bankers who have lost or are about to lose jobs as banks compete in a regulatory environment that favors nonbanks.

Or read the stock listings. Gaze in wonder at the vulnerability of bank securities to economic, political, and marketplace developments.

It happens almost every day:

A positive sign emerges from the deliberations in a Congressional committee. Poof! Share prices rise dramatically.

The situation reverses, pointing to likely introduction of stiff regulations -- and no new bank powers. Poof again! Bank stocks plummet.

Banks don't need and don't deserve the negative news and its consequences.

So bring out the communications tools and convert employees, shareholders, and their families into energized advocates for change.

Firing Up the Troops

In getting information to employees, a bank can make use of house organs, letters to the home, staff meetings, outside motivational speakers, internal television programming, pay-envelope enclosures, and bulletin boards.

Going further, the bank can supply letters to legislators and reprints of articles and editorials that support comprehensive bank reform.

And rather than rely solely on one-shot news stories in the house organ, banks can use their publications to present the same information in a variety of ways.

Many Messages

Facts and figures on the rationales for industry positions can be packaged in multiple-choice quizzes -- which not only give staff members the right answers but also expose misconceptions.

House organs also can contain question-and-answer pieces on the legislation, reprints of advertisements and other messages on the topic, and news stories -- replete with analyses -- about current developments.

The most effective step may publication in a bank house organ of case studies showing how employees have been affected by legislative, regulatory, or marketplace developments and accounts of what bank personnel are doing to influence these developments.

Energizing Investors

This same kind of information can be given to shareholders via annual and quarterly reports, speeches at the annual meeting, and letters.

Surely investors would want to know and do something about developments that raise or lower the value of their holdings.

There is no magic in all this, and there are no insurmountable hurdles. It is simply a question of planning and budgeting, then performing.

It Worked Before

The banking industry saw how an aggressive communications campaign could influence legislation when it successfully fought against the proposal to withhold bank savings account interest in the early 1980s.

Tens of thousands of individuals were motivated to write to their Congressmen through advertising, a press relations campaign, checking account statement enclosures, and the mobilization of employees and shareholders.

The withholding proposal was buried under an avalanche of letters.

Time to Get Moving

The banking industry now has a chance to let history repeat itself.

Bank employees and shareholders (and, ultimately, the general public) can benefit from a reform bill that improves regulation while granting banks more product and geographic diversification.

It's time to bring these people into the fray.

Mr. Robert S. Cole is a former director of public relations for the New York Bankers Association.

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