If you want to know just how urgent a priority community reinvestment has become for banks, look no further than the Bank Marketing Association's annual marketing awards program.

Grabbing two of the top three Golden Coin awards at the BMA's conference were campaigns focusing on community reinvestment. And the BMA says more than half of the 52 contest submissions focused on community outreach programs.

"It's a very hot issue," said Hana Sognnaes, manager of information services at the an affiliate of the American Bankers Association. "A few years ago we had nothing on community reinvestment."

Other Concerns Reflected

To be sure, many other important banking issues were mirrored in presentations at the BMA conference.

The third Gold Coin winner, for example, was a campaign to increase efficiency - a topic on the minds of bankers everywhere. And other marketing strategies dealt with competitive issues surrounding consolidation of the industry.

But a look at the winners in the product marketing and external communications awards categories suggests that bankers are reaching out to communities as never before.

One winner, Midlantic National Bank, Edison, N.J., found a way increase deposits while supporting local schools.

Dollars for New Equipment

The bank gave customers "School Dollars" for new deposits. More than 500 schools in the densely populated area were given funds to buy new equipment like computers and VCRs. The program brought in over $215 million in deposits, four times the bank's original goal.

"They were doing things to satisfy both issues: increasing deposits and reaching out," said Nancy Williamson, assistant vice president at Bank One, La-Grange, Ill., one of three contest judges.

Another winning approach was drumming up community development loans in a recession-ravaged corner of New England.

Flagship Bank and Trust Co., Worcester, Mass., established a loan pool and then used a marketing campaign to attract nonprofit foundations and corporations wishing to borrow for projects such as housing and downtown revitalization.

In addition to capturing a Golden Coin in product marketing the "Worcester Fund" program helped the bank garner an "outstanding" rating on its compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act.

Recession, Riots Cited

The emphasis on reaching out to communities has a variety of roots, say experts. Some point to the effects of the recession and the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots. Others say federal law is the strongest catalyst.

To the extent federal pressure gave an impetus to community-oriented marketing campaigns, the trend "may settle down" after banks successfully navigate a few examinations under the new, stricter CRA guidelines, said Stephen Thomas, marketing director at Valley Bank and Trust Co., Salt Lake City, which received an honorable mention.

Other award-winning campaigns reflected a concern with improving efficiency.

The Golden Coin winner for internal communications was a low-budget "Football Frenzy" campaign to boost loan originations.

At a cost of $20,000, Bank of America Nevada made $15.4 million of consumer and real estate loans in the fourth quarter of 1991, almost double its goal.

Consolidation figured prominently in a separate BMA contest. One radio spot by Puget Sound Bank suggested that monies deposited with rivals Seafirst Corp. and other units of BankAmerica Corp. would be exported to California.

The ad ended with an announcer touting Puget Sound Bank as "the last major independent commercial bank left around here." Ironically, the bank's parent, Puget Sound Bancorp, later agreed to be acquired KeyCorp of Albany, N.Y.

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