Frank Pinto, chief executive of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers, has emerged in the past year as one of community banking's biggest cheerleaders.
The 50-year-old former college professor mixes unabashed boosterism with political savvy to put forth the notion that community bankers are heroes. "I'm just yelling the loudest," he said.
Mr. Pinto was the driving force behind the first National Community Banking Month, which took place in June. He and Christopher L. Williston, CEO of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, campaigned for all state independent bank associations to participate.
The effort concluded with a lobbying fest in Washington. A hundred and fifty community bankers descended on Capitol Hill June 16; Mr. Pinto was like a pied piper, with a rambling Philadelphia accent as his flute.
Mr. Pinto became the top executive at the Harrisburg-based trade group in 1985 after a 10-year career in politics. He burst out of obscurity as a LaSalle University history and political science professor to run as a Republican for the Philadelphia City Council in 1975. He lost miserably, but the election was the trigger for a massive fraud investigation into Philadelphia's Democratic machine.
He spent the next 10 years as chief lieutenant to the Pennsylvania Senate's president pro-tem.
The trade group has doubled membership since he took over. Along with that of Texas, Mr. Pinto's group is one of the country's most active.
He first pushed for a Pennsylvania Community Banking Month a few years ago. The group encourages members to place ads that laud community bankings' ideals, not only its products.
"One of the things I've been harping about all this time is that community bankers don't know their collective strengths," he said. "Everyone perceives us as being small players, but together we are awesome."
Thus came the drive to make Community Banking Month a national event. The inaugural month was a lobbying success, but judging from anecdotal evidence wasn't such a grass-roots hit. Mr. Pinto said 32 states participated, but he is stilt trying to measure the level of participation.
"I think what we did in the first year was a giant first step," he said. "But the real success we have to measure is back home where the impact is most important."
Next year, he said, the month will probably be earlier in the spring so that school programs can be included. Mr. Pinto also wants to have a standard package of materials that shows how banks can participate, from sample press releases and advertising material to how to sponsor a local essay contest.