Information is the currency of modern depository institutions. Banks depend on sound financial information to operate successfully. Banks need extensive market information to develop a marketing strategy to compete in an increasingly sophisticated marketplace. And, banks require continuing information about ever-shifting legislative and regulatory requirements -- even in the face of recent government steps to "relieve the regulatory burden."

This need for information applies to depository institutions of all sizes. While larger institutions often have information resources in-house or at their call from third-party sources, their service offerings are usually broader and they have many more managers who require information to perform their responsibilities effectively. Smaller institutions, on the other hand, generally don't have the luxury of vast information resources. They have fewer employees to gather information and don't have the financial resources to apply as readily to third-party solutions.

Savings & Community Bankers of America provides its members with direct access to some of the finest technical information and expertise in the banking business, SCBA offers a comprehensive storehouse of information for its highly-regulated, depository institution members.

SCBA's Technical Services unit and other professional staff experts, many with practical banking experience, regularly provide members with information, even for rules that have been on the books for months or years. Whether it is providing staff expertise on the rules for truth in lending, currency transactions reporting, truth in savings, electronic funds transfer, the need to address member questions and concerns just doesn't go away.

But the benefits gained by responding directly to member inquiries is a two-way street. The intelligence gathered from questions about existing regulations refines overall trade organization knowledge and leads to other steps -- suggested improvements to existing regulations, valuable information for new regulatory proposals and suggested approaches for solving operational problems.

Take the intelligence gathering link out of the chain and not only do you have less practical information to use in government relations efforts, but community bankers are likely to find a lot less information on which to base their day-to-day business decisions in the "real" world.

At SCBA, this information development cycle produces information for its members in a number of ways, such as publications, conferences and responses to members' written and oral inquiries.

The foundation of publication resources is the four-volume Federal Guide, a compendium of all regulations which apply to depository institutions. Extending out from this base are other subscription publications which address public policy, regulatory developments, operational tips, trustees and directors information needs, financial management and the economy.

In addition, national conferences on real estate lending, the secondary mortgage market, community bank compliance and accounting and tax issues provide members with opportunities to exchange ideas and hear from leading national experts, regulators and community bankers. However, the most important link with SCBA's members is the one-on-one inquiries which not only address individual problems but are leveraged to serve other members.

SCBA is also increasingly turning to or evaluating information delivery systems that are more technologically sophisticated: video, CD-ROM, teleconferencing, interactive network exchange and facsimile transmission on demand. SCBA recently began offering the extensive Federal Guide on CD-ROM.

SCBA's role in meeting a community bank's need for information is a member-driven partnership. It thrives because users are actively involved in the identification of information needs and in the development of services that meet those needs.

Arguably, these information services can be obtained from private third parties, and at times that makes sense.

But where sufficient member demand exists, the more effective way to deliver information services designed with users in mind is through trade association resources close to the action and dedicated to meeting its members needs.

That close-to-the-action information development cycle is the heart of SCBA's strategy. Its Technical Services staff is the foundation of this resource, augmented with other subject specialists throughout the organization. It draws heavily on SCBA's extensive standing committee structure, which directly involves the participation of senior-level managers who are experts in a particular area, such as mortgage finance, the secondary market or accounting.

This gives SCBA, with its philosophy of striving to be a community bank's primary information resource, an important edge in its overall member support: more timely, focused publications, better conferences and in-depth responses to legislative and regulatory initiatives.

As a result, SCBA technical services and other professional staff experts provide members with something even more useful than information -- knowledge.

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