WASHINGTON - Montana's two banking trade groups are not merging.

In a vote this week, members of the Montana Bankers Association agreed to combine with the Montana Independent Bankers Association, however the deal failed to gain a majority of the independent bankers' members.

Talk of uniting the groups had been in the air for about two years as part of joint committee and board meetings. Supporters of the merger pointed to cost efficiency. The merger would have meant the same budget with lower dues for members. In addition, proponents said the combined group would have had more political clout.

But Montana Independent president John R. Harris said the groups do not share the same goals, explaining that many of his members think the Montana Bankers Association does not adequately represent the interests of smaller banks. "The large banks that are members of the MBA are being merged, sold, or leaving the organization. They are the largest due payers, they control the MBA," said Mr. Harris, who is also president of First Securities Bank in Kalispell. "We did not want to have the big banks in control."

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