Association of America, Karen Thomas spends her days seeking special favors for small banks. What's good for the nation's big banks may not work for small, community-based institutions, she said. "We think the agencies should write regulations that don't unduly burden small banks where it's not necessary," she said. "We like to say, one size doesn't fit all." Apparently, the regulators agree. The new Community Reinvestment Act rules set up streamlined examination procedures for institutions with less than $250 billion in assets. That's a big deal for community banks, which spend more than $1 billion each year complying with the community lending law. Lots of people are taking credit for that victory, and Ms. Thomas doesn't mind claiming some of the kudos for her group. "We were the original proponent of the idea of a streamlined exam for small banks," she said. "That's been something that's been extremely important to us, and we have very high hopes that it will alleviate a lot of the burden from our members." Moreover, she added, "our voice was certainly loudest in that whole reform effort." Ms. Thomas hopes the CRA rules signal a turning point in the way community banks are viewed by regulators. Small banks are feeling competitive pressures, she said, and strict regulations make it that much harder for community institutions to survive. She cites a 1993 study by management consultant Grant Thornton to illustrate the scope of the problem: America's 10,000 community banks spend more than $3.2 billion annually on compliance in 13 areas, ranging from truth-in-lending to call reports. Ms. Thomas joined the IBAA in 1992 as regulatory counsel, reporting to Diane Casey, the trade group's well-regarded executive director and agency lobbyist. When Ms. Casey jumped to Grant Thornton earlier this year, Ms. Thomas moved up to her current position. Ms. Casey left the trade group with some big shoes to fill, but the organization's top officers say Ms. Thomas has risen to the challenge. "She's covered so many different issues this year, and she's been superb in every effort," said Richard L. Mount, the IBAA's president. "I don't know of anybody who could do any better job than she does." Because the IBAA has a small staff, Ms. Thomas must wear many hats. She is responsible for a range of duties, from writing comment letters to preparing newsletters to scheduling convention speakers. "Karen and her staff do what other associations do with perhaps two or three times the firepower," said Salvatore Marranca, chairman of the IBAA's regulatory review committee and president and chief executive of Cattaraugus County Bank in New York. "But that's the community bank philosophy - the IBAA does the same thing we bankers do at our jobs every day, doing more with 20 people than some big banks do with 2,000." Ms. Thomas received a bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary and a law degree from George Washington University. Before joining the IBAA in 1992, she co-founded the Washington law firm Dann & Thomas, where she gained experience in regulatory law. Mr. Marranca said she has two areas of strength that are important to the trade group. "Karen is up on her issues and is able to communicate them even to a country community banker like me, which is important." Mr. Serb writes for the Medill News Service.
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