Christopher L. Williston, executive director of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, is feeling pretty good about life these days.

Profits at member banks are at historic highs and and the trade group is setting records of its own politically. The Independent Bankers went to the mat this year on interstate branching - taking on its in-state rival, the Texas Bankers Association - and won big.

Texas is the only state to opt out of the federal interstate branching law.

That might entitle Mr. Williston to a few hours of celebration this week, as the trade group meets just outside San Antonio for its annual convention. But Mr. Williston said his members can't afford to rest on their laurels. The interstate issue is coming back, he said, and they have to be ready.

"The governor is not in our corner on this, and the House and Senate leadership is being pressured extremely hard by the big out-of-state banks," he said.

Mr. Williston expects 400 bankers to show up for the annual meeting - not bad for a trade group that counts 750 banks among its members. With spouses, vendors and others, as many as 1,000 people are expected to attend.

And interstate branching - and whether the state will revisit its decision to opt out of the legislation's requirements - is only one of a number of topics that bankers are likely to talk about in the hallways and reception rooms.

One concern for Mr. Williston right now is the merger fever that has begun to afflict community banks as much as the nation's big regionals.

"I've lost 50 members to mergers in the last quarter and a half," Mr. Williston said. That hurts, but Mr. Williston still has 750 members and he believes the trend could stabilize soon.

"I don't see it getting much lower than 700 banks or so because Texas is so geographically dispersed," he said.

Still, Mr. Williston is refocusing his conference, making it more of a serious, down-to-business type of affair than it has been in the past.

"We're going to be a lot more focused on education, on workshops," he said.

A high priority in that regard will be banking technology.

But legislative issues are never far from the top of Mr. Williston's list of priorities.

Texas, he notes, is still the only state in the nation that bans home equity lending. Bankers pressed the state legislature for change a year ago, and came close to winning. Mr. Williston is confident they will prevail in the next session of the state legislature.

"It passed in one house," he said, noting that a two-thirds majority is needed since the provision overturns a section of the Texas state constitution.

"Home equity lending will be at the top of the agenda," he said.

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