Hoping to save money and create a stronger lobbying voice, the Texas Bankers Association and the Independent Bankers Association of Texas are considering a merger.

The two trade groups, which together represent about 800 banks, have been discussing a union for about six months. But talks heated up during the Independent Bankers' annual convention here this week when the trade group's general membership discussed it for the first time.

"It is extremely important that we all listen at this time," Christopher L. Williston, president and chief executive officer of the group, told its members at a general session Monday. "All of the issues will be debated."

Members of the independent trade group, who may vote on an official merger proposal by yearend, were divided on the issue.

Some, such as Don F. Duffield, president and CEO of First National Bank of Weatherford, said the groups would save money on educational programming and publications if they joined. And bankers would be more effective if they lobbied with a single voice in the Texas Legislature, he said.

But others who view the Texas Bankers Association as too big-bank- friendly said they want to retain a separate voice. Two bankers from West Texas, who asked not to be identified, said they dropped their memberships in the Texas Bankers Association in 1989 after the two groups lined up on opposite sides of the interstate branching issue.

About 80% of the Independent Bankers' members also pay dues to the Texas Bankers Association, but Mr. Williston said "serious philosophical differences" exist between the two groups over how a combined group would be run.

They have yet to work out, for example, whether large banks would be allowed to join the unified group. Gary W. Schur, interim president of the Texas Bankers Association, said his group wants to allow membership to any bank doing business in the state.

But Mr. Williston, who said large banks' interest in state trade group membership is waning, wants a community-bank-only policy.

If the groups go forward with the merger, they would be following the example of states such as North Carolina and Florida, where a merger was completed Thursday.

That trend troubles Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America. "We don't see what community bankers would gain by losing that unique and effective voice."

Neither the IBAA nor its counterpart, the American Bankers Association, have lost members when their state affiliates merged. But the two national groups often disagree on policy issues, which "confuses things in Washington," Mr. Guenther said.

Mr. Williston estimated the odds of the two groups merging at about fifty-fifty. Mr. Schur, who stepped in as president of the Texas Bankers when the group's previous leader, Robert Harris, died in August, was more optimistic. "I think it will happen," he said.

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