Community Bankers report that among their most valuable experiences is attending a meeting of peers from similar size banks around the country to discuss common problems.

The two this columnist has heard about are run by Alex Sheshunoff of Austin, Tex., and by fellow American Banker columnist Anat Bird, for BBDO Seidman.

One of the exercises that the attendees go through is to compare call report data on their own operations with those of similar sized banks to see where their own weaknesses lie.

Because the banks do not compete with each other, most attendees are willing to talk openly, and some chief executives report returning home with a large number of usable ideas.

A Valuable Lesson

Sometimes the lessons learned are surprising.

For example, one CEO wondered why his fee income was so much lower than that of his peers.

In the course of the seminar he attended, he found out why: His loan underwriting standards were so much tighter than his peers' that his late-fee income was only a small fraction of what they earned.

I don't know what he did about this - did he just sit back with satisfaction, or did he decide to let a few slow or sloppy borrowers in the door? But at least he found out what was causing the fee deficiency in his fee income relative to that of other banks.

The following letter from Carolyn B. McCrossin of Washington, D.C., speaks for itself. It rebuts a letter - qouted in the Sept 20 column - in which Jerry Halverson, president of Wesbanco in Parkersburg, W. Va., objected to the mandatory publication of call reports.

Ms. McCrossin writes:

"I disagree with your column in yesterday's American Banker and, specifically, with your illustrations of Jerry Halverson's view that publication of bank call reports is unnecessary.

"The opinion that customers must see fancy lobbies with silk sofas and gold-plated teller cages before they'll do business with a financial institution is the same obtuse reasoning that encouraged such displays of wealth as the Centrust Tower.

"The fact that many laymen don't know how to read call reports isn't a valid excuse for not providing the information.

"Restaurant patrons don't just peer through a window to decide whether to eat in an establishment; they read the menu. It's well known that grungy truck stops often serve terrific food."

Suggestion Box

On July Fourth weekend, everyone in Seymour, Ind., gets a piece of the pie as Home Federal Savings Bank passes out apple pie and lemonade to the whole town.

It takes a lot of pie, but John K. Keach Jr., the $530 million-asset thrift's third generation president, says the giveaway highlights Home Federal's ROCK (Radically Outrageous Club for Kids) club - a savings plan for youngsters that now has built up 3,500 accounts in 18 months from a territory of 150,000 people.

Club members bringing in their report cards receive a fluorescent toothbrush or a kazoo, and there are no minimum-balance requirements for joining - just save something.

The bank has a newsletter that emphasizes topics like keeping your grades up and the value of saving.

What's in it for the bank"

Sure, the costs of handling the accounts have to be met, but Mr. Keach says the promotion creates a good feeling in the community, differentiating Home Federal from the other 14 institutions in the market, and more important - the people at Home Federal like the program and what they are doing for their communities.

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