BURR RIDGE, Ill. - The walls of Irwin Professional Publishing are covered with framed quotes from athletes, philosophers, statesmen, and such authors as Hemingway and Twain.
Editors at Irwin, a leading producer of compliance books and training information, say the quotes are to meant to inspire those working on BankLine, the company's banking series. But they also serve as reminders that compliance books aren't quite "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" or "The Sun Also Rises."
"We're dealing with professionals, not professional writers," said Mark Butler, a banking editor at Irwin. "We want their ideas. We will help them get their ideas on paper and put together a coherent presentation.
"The challenge is that sometimes we get good ideas and that's all," he said. "Other times we get a beautifully written manuscript that's ready to roll."
More often than not, the former is the case. Still, with compliance topics ranging from the Community Reinvestment Act and the Fair Lending Act to investments and securities, Irwin manages to crank out 45 to 50 banking books each year, Mr. Butler said.
BankLine publications include the Price Waterhouse compliance handbooks and The Mortgage Lending Compliance Audit Manual by Barefoot by Marrinan & Associates.
Perhaps the best-known author in the other categories is John B. McCoy, chairman and chief executive of Banc One Corp., who co-authored "Bottom Line Banking: Meeting the Challenges for Survival and Success."
Nowadays it's much easier to get the ball rolling on new projects, thanks to changes in the fast-growing BankLine family tree.
Probus Publishing created BankLine in 1992 in connection with the Bank Administration Institute. A year later, Probus bought the rights to run BankLine independently. Then, in April, Probus and its BankLine series were acquired by Irwin, part of the far larger Times Mirror Co. And everything changed.
"It took our program from Probus and supercharged it," Mr. Butler said. "It's the same direction, but we can do things broader and faster."
Irwin's resources give it leverage in wooing authors, getting their books into various outlets, and extending the scope of their advertising.
Mr. Butler estimates that book production has increased 10% to 20%, and the number of titles has increased as well. However, he said Times Mirror policy restricted him from giving out specific sales numbers.
Of course, BankLine doesn't have the field of compliance publishing all to its own. In fact, it faces some stiff competition, Mr. Butler said. The clear leader, he said, is Austin, Tex.-based Sheshunoff Information Services, a company affiliated with the American Banker.
But Bankline is unquestionably a force in the field.
"In terms of our principal competitors, they're on the list, near the top," said Cindy Baltierra, director of compliance with the American Bankers' Association. She said the BankLine name was respected throughout the industry.
And the future is looking bright.
BankLine's connection with Times Mirror helps make traveling through the country talking to people and looking for ideas easier to swallow financially. As a result, the operation is better able to keep an eye on the goings-on of the banking industry.
"We go to conferences throughout the country and meet and talk to lots of people," said marketing manager Brian Hayes. "That's how we solicit a lot of information and determine what topics to write about in the coming year."
CRA and fair-lending have dominated BankLine's compliance area in recent years, with the Bank Secrecy Act generating interest recently because of changes in the record-keeping and reporting requirements.
Once the issues are determined, the authors must be found.
Often, BankLine gets a knock on its door from bankers withsomething to say but wanting help saying it. But recruiting also plays a part in finding people to write.
Like a basketball coach or a corporate headhunter, BankLine looks for potential, assuming that much effort will be required to convert raw talent into a strong hand.
"A lot of the authors have a great enthusiasm for writing, but they need some help," said managing editor Kevin Thornton. "We try to harness that enthusiasm."
He said the team assembled to put each book together must quickly become comfortable with the topic at hand. In many ways, each new manuscript the company handles begins a new course in the intricacies of banking.
"When you first start working with these guys, they're more than happy to talk shop," Mr. Thornton said. "And as you talk more and more with them, you get a real viewpoint as to what the market is looking for. These guys are experts in their field and we're getting trained by the best."
Though the company takes great care in translating the experts' ideas into clear prose, it's keenly aware of the need to move quickly. In the rapid-fire changing industry of compliance, bank needs can transform quickly and deadline dates can be moved up at any time.
"In the past few years, there's been a crisis of information with people looking to see what they can find," Mr. Butler said. "Fast information is king, so we try to turn things around as quickly as possible."
He cited FASB 115 - a 1994 accounting rule governing how banks account for securities - as a case where a rule came down and was put into effect so quickly that the production time had to be cut down to weeks rather than months.
In a real and sometimes frustrating way, BankLine's production deadlines are subject to the whims of Congress.
To keep the fast information flowing, the company routinely updates its books and training programs.
Irwin has also hired a "Webmaster," whose job it is to establish a home page on the World Wide Web. Potentially, Mr. Hayes said, that's another way to get the word out about the company and to dispense help to an information-hungry industry.
Still, the home page is going to take time and effort to make useful. But after years of trying to transform bankers into authors, the company has got used to turning the ambiguous and confusing into something useful.