WASHINGTON - At the American Bankers Association, the blockbuster Chase Manhattan-Chemical merger is more than just cause for oohs, aahs, and discussions about the future of the banking industry.
It's also a $128,750 hit to the trade group's bottom line.
The merger will also be costly for Bankers Roundtable and the Consumer Bankers Association.
The reason: All three groups' dues are structured so that an immense bank pays little or nothing more than a simply huge bank. At the ABA, a bank with assets of more than $50 billion - be it $51 billion or $297 billion - pays dues of $128,750.
With the merger of behemoths Chase and Chemical, the net effect for the trade groups is the same as losing a member - and a big one, at that.
As a result, this year's wave of megamergers has been bad news for trade associations.
"Obviously it's going to cost us several hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Dick Foss, director of membership at the ABA. The ABA's total budget is $67 million.
At Bankers Roundtable, revenue loss from the mergers announced so far this year will be proportionally much bigger - $300,000 out of a budget of $3 million, executive director Anthony T. Cluff said.
The Consumer Bankers Association's loss will be something more than $100,000, out of a budget of $4 million, said Daniel Buser, the group's vice president for development.
The Independent Bankers Association of America and America's Community Bankers have not been affected by this year's supermergers, but they, too, have seen membership shrink as mergers and acquisitions of all sizes deplete the industry's ranks.
"The percentage decrease hits the ABA and Bankers Roundtable with much greater impact than we are hit," said Kenneth Guenther, executive vice president of the IBAA, where dues top out at $5,000 for the biggest members. "But the trend toward consolidation has affected community banks as well."
ACB, the trade association for thrifts, has not been plagued by members merging. But its predicament may be the most dire of all, as commercial banks gobble up thrifts and Congress considers doing away with the savings association charter.
The trade groups have adopted a variety of tactics to cope with these changes.
Most popular is offering - and charging for - services ranging from health insurance to educational programs to stock brokering. The ABA now gets just 30% of its revenues from dues, the CBA 38%.
Belt-tightening is also in vogue, as is looking for members in new places.
The CBA, for example, now has 250 associate members - companies that sell things to retail banks - compared with 180 bank members.
ACB took "savings" out of its name early this year, and now is courting smaller commercial banks. "It's a ferocious marketplace out there," said Robert Schmermund, the group's director of public affairs.
Bankers Roundtable, which is open only to top executives from the 125 largest banking companies, has followed a different path.
"We haven't put on schools, we haven't put on training sessions or conferences," said Mr. Cluff. "This has been a professional group for senior executives; it doesn't lend itself to those things."
The group is also unique in that, while it loses money when big banks merge, it doesn't necessarily face a decrease in the number of members. Every time there's a merger, in fact, Mr. Cluff contacts the new No. 125 bank and asks if it wants to join.
The problem is, the gulf in size between No. 1 and No. 125 is growing ever wider, and Mr. Cluff thinks his group may have to become more selective.
"As these companies become larger and larger at the top, the ability to coalesce around consensus issues with No. 125 may become more difficult," Mr. Cluff said. "That divergence may cause us to rethink what the number would be."