America's Community Bankers' annual convention gets under way today in San Francisco.

For the first time, much of the conference will be transmitted live over the Internet.

"It shows that we are up-to-date with the most modern technology, and for the people who can't attend, it'll almost be like they're there in person," said C. William Landefeld, outgoing ACB president.

The "cybercast," which will carry the general sessions, can be viewed at the group's Web site, www.acbankers.org.

The 2,700 expected to attend-700 more than last year-will be treated to another first today: Ellen S. Seidman will make her debut speech as Office of Thrift Supervision director. Ms. Seidman, a White House aide for the last four years, was sworn in Oct. 29.

Ms. Seidman, along with acting Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Andrew C. Hove Jr., will answer questions posed by William A. Fitzgerald, chairman and chief executive of Commercial Federal Bank, Omaha.

Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., also is to address the conference today, and he is expected to argue against provisions in pending financial modernization legislation that would abolish the thrift charter.

The theme of this year's convention is "Setting the Pace," with sessions covering business lending, risk management, and sales and marketing skills.

"We chose this theme because we want our bankers to look more to the marketplace and less to the political process for the real definition of what their world is going to look like," ACB president Paul A. Schosberg said.

During one session this afternoon, Robert E. Hallagan, chief executive of the Center for Board Leadership, will query the audience on the best practices of thrift directors. Audience members will be able to respond via handheld electronic devices.

New this year is a session on construction lending.

"It's an area that a lot of members are looking into in order to expand beyond traditional home mortgages," said Lamar Brantley, ACB's director of programs. "Executives will get a chance to learn how some of their peers mine this niche very effectively."

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