Old allegiances were put to the test this week as two national banking trade groups vied for the attention of community bankers with simultaneous conventions.
About 3,300 people are gambling away in Las Vegas' glittering casinos at the Independent Bankers Association of America's annual gathering, while 800 turned out to sun themselves in Desert Springs, Calif., at the American Bankers Association's community banking conference.
Coincidence? Not according to IBAA executive vice president Kenneth A. Guenther, who accuses the ABA of trying to undermine the IBAA's convention.
"Their tactic is not working," said Mr. Guenther. "Their annual convention is in trouble, and ours has never been so healthy. But if the ABA wants to run a meeting at the same time as we're running a meeting, that's their problem."
Organizers of the ABA event denied that they had scheduled the conflict on purpose. They said they had determined the dates more than a year ago, unaware of the time overlap.
Nevertheless, both groups reported record turnouts. The IBAA said more than 700 banks are represented at its event; the ABA claimed about 550 for its own.
"I'd like to go to both if I could," said Donald J. Gudinas, chief executive of $125 million-asset Eisenhower National Bank in Fort Sam Houston, Tex., who went to the ABA's meeting in Desert Springs. "What made this one stand out for me were the contents - the technology and marketing topics."
Those attending the IBAA convention in Las Vegas tend to be from the smaller institutions, predominantly stemming from the association's roots in the Midwest. Many said they were former ABA members who had become disgruntled with the larger-bank dominance of that association and felt that the IBAA better represented their views.
"The ABA simply does not have our agenda in mind," said John E. Bentley, president and chief executive officer of Connecticut River Bank in Charlestown, N.H., which switched membership to the IBAA because of that group's opposition to interstate branching.
Steve Webb. president of $270 million-asset Citizens Bank in Philadelphia, Miss., said the ABA alternative suited him better.
"The convention's more down-to-earth here," he said. "I also don't care much for Las Vegas."
Some vendors had a bigger problem with the scheduling. Many found themselves dividing their staffs between the two meetings to ensure they didn't miss potential customers.