Making banks look good in Congress can be daunting. Just ask Debbie Shannon, who lobbies the House of Representatives for the American Bankers Association.
"If you talk to a congressman or senator who has recently had a bad experience with their bank, then the whole process is immediately tainted," she says.
Holds on lawmakers' checks spurred the Expedited Funds Availability Act in 1987, and one congressman's unsuccessful attempts to cancel his private mortgage insurance has led to legislation that would require all lenders to end the coverage once a borrower's equity reaches 20%.
But with nearly 20 years of lobbying experience, 10 with the ABA, Ms. Shannon understands what it takes to win in Congress.
"The biggest mistake made by lobbyists is that they don't ask members that one hard question, 'Will you vote for the bill?'" she says. Ms. Shannon, who possesses a unique combination of optimism and persistence, said she works self-imposed 12-hour days. In recent weeks those long hours have been occupied by the ABA's effort to defeat current versions of financial reform legislation.
She credits the industry's aggressive lobbying for pushing the House leadership to delay a vote on the bill until next year.
"We were pleased they didn't rush to put bill together quickly that had not worked out all the details necessary for banking industry support," she says.
While banks need financial reform less than their competitors, the 47- year-old Ms. Shannon insists the ABA wants legislation to be enacted.
"The ABA is committed to being at the table and we want a bill as long as it's the right one," she says. "We're already in each others marketplaces so it doesn't behoove anybody to stand there and be a brick wall."
Also on her agenda: bankruptcy reform. Congress needs to make it harder for people to use bankruptcy as a protection from creditors, she says. Courts also must process cases faster so debtors' assets don't lose value.
Ms. Shannon predicts that technology issues will soon catch fire on Capitol Hill. "Technology is leaps and bounds ahead of the marketplace," she said. "We have to get a handle on it. Congress needs to set up some guidelines."
The ABA will continue to fight perennial battles such as making individual retirement accounts more flexible. Ms. Shannon wants Congress to give customers more freedom to withdraw money for education costs or buying a home without being penalized.
"It's a wonderful savings vehicle, and attracting savings is good for the banking industry," she says.
Ms. Shannon also plans to push for limits on credit union membership. "We clearly have a problem with credit unions that are expanding beyond their common bond," she says.
Ms. Shannon became a saleswoman after graduating from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She got her first taste of lobbying during five years in the Washington office of then-Security Pacific National Bank.
She spent the next four years lobbying the House and Senate for the National Association of Realtors. Before joining ABA she represented residential real estate developers for the National Multi-Housing Council.