State conventions provide a solid opportunity to educate bank employees and directors, but too many banks look at them just as nice tax-deductible weekends for top management and board members.
Sure, many bankers look forward to the annual get-togethers. Some acquisition offers have been turned down just because the board members would no longer be invited to the convention.
Still there are great ways to make the annual convention more valuable without giving up the social side. I have commented in this space before about the benefits of inviting legislators to banking conventions to speak or just to mingle.
Everyone involved in legislation knows the value of access. Yet too few associations invite these lawmakers to join them in the relaxed setting of a convention, where discussions can be far more effective than in a visit to the legislator's office.
Bankers who decide the agenda for their conventions should keep this in mind, and even those who don't can tell their trade group executives know how valuable they think inviting these officials can be. But there are other ways for bankers to get more from their conventions. Here are several ideas:
o Send more of your bank's employees. Why should your delegation be just the top officers and some directors? How about having a contest for employees to build some important area of your business, such as generating new deposits, and giving the winners a free trip to the convention?
Not only would the employees be motivated, but the winners would get a broader understanding of the bank's goals and problems. And they would certainly share this knowledge with other staff members.
o Use the convention to broaden bankers' understanding of the issues that affect various segments of the bank's personnel and how each segment affects the others.
Why not suggest panels of directors explaining what information they are not getting from their banks, or officers talking about what they would like their directors to do? How about having nonofficer employees explain their views of specific issues?
o Many conventions include panels of bank regulators discussing what they want banks to do. Why not have reverse panels in which bankers tell regulators their gripes about the regulatory process?
o Bankers often complain that the news media distort their industry. A panel in which media people and bankers discuss the way bank-related issues are reported could clear a lot of air.
Sure, conventions should still be fun, and most bankers will admit that one idea shared during cocktail hour can help cover the cost of sending a delegation. But with a little forethought, the state convention can be a truly educational experience.
Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is a professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management in Newark, N.J.