The top bank and thrift trade groups in Florida have agreed to merge, clearing the way for more effective lobbying efforts at the state and national levels.

"We wanted to create a unified, member-driven organization with a single voice in Florida that can represent the interests of both commercial banks and savings institutions," said league chairman Thomas F. Orthman.

"We'll have more of a joint opinion rather than two different opinions. And there's got to be more persuasion because we'll have more numbers," said Charles B. Stuzin, chairman, president and CEO of Florida's largest thrift, Miami-based CSF Holdings Inc.

Will Have 410 Members

Wednesday's announcement came after several years of discussions and negotiations between the two groups. The combined trade group, which will use the Florida Bankers Association name, will have 410 members -- 365 banks and 43 thrifts.

Thrift industry executives cited several reasons for wanting to join with the commercial bankers. In addition to bolstering their lobbying efforts in Washington and Tallahassee, the S&Ls will gain access to the association's training programs.

"If you look at the balance sheets, there's not too much difference any more between a bank and a thrift," said league president William D. Hussey. "The educational programs that the association offers are certainly going to be in tune with what the thrifts need too."

Mr. Hussey's own plans to retire after 36 years with the league helped clear the way for the agreement, since the thrift group was faced with the task of hiring another president had it decided to remain independent.

Mr. Hussey, 61, will remain as an adviser to the association's board.

All 10 league directors will join the 19-member association board, bringing the total to 29. In addition, Jeffrey W. Grady, formerly of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, will oversee thrift interests as vice president/thrift banker executive.

Shrinking Membership

John Milstead will continue as executive vice president of the association.

Shrinking membership and declining revenues have forced thrift associations in several other states to merge with either the main commercial banking associations or with those representing community banks.

"It's sad to see this happen. But on the other hand, we acknowledge the fact that times change," Mr. Orthman said.

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