If the Independent Bankers Association of America had a poster boy, he could well be its incoming president, Robert N. Barsness.
Mr. Barsness is president, chairman, and chief executive officer of Prior Lake (Minn.) State Bank. Like many IBAA-member banks, Prior Lake State is family-run, located in a small town, and has assets of roughly $100 million.
The bank is so down-home that its senior citizens program is run by Mr. Barsness' 82-year-old mother.
"We have a real vested interest in the community we're in," Mr. Barsness said.
IBAA members are expected to elect Mr. Barsness, 54, the group's nominee for president, this week at the trade group's annual convention in San Francisco. He would succeed William L. McQuillan, a Nebraska banker who is to become chairman of the IBAA's board of directors.
Also at the convention, members are expected to back a proposal to change the 59-year-old trade group's name to the Independent Community Bankers of America.
"Community is really what we are," Mr. Barsness said. "We felt it was important to incorporate that name into our title."
Prior Lake State Bank has been in the Barsness family for nearly 35 years.
Founded in 1909, it was bought by Mr. Barsness' father, a onetime pharmacist, in 1965. Mr. Barsness joined the bank four years later, after a three-year military tour that included 18 months in Vietnam. He inherited the top job in 1989 after his father died.
As president of the 5,500-member trade group, Mr. Barsness said, he intends to "carry on" the IBAA's goals in Washington. In particular, he said, he will fight legislation that would make it easier for community banks to become subchapter S corporations.
And he opposes any provision in the financial modernization bill that would let nonfinancial companies own banks.
"That's just bad public policy," he said. "It isn't working in Asia. Why should it work here?"
His chief goal for his one-year term, however, is to make sure that community banks are "technologically prepared."
With more commerce being handled electronically, he said, small banks need to modernize or risk losing business to large banks that offer such services as on-line banking and smart cards. That's one message he intends to spread as he makes the rounds at state trade association conventions this year.
"There's a lot going on out there, and most of us don't have a good handle on it," he said.
Mr. Barsness said he is also concerned about competition from nonbanks.
Some retailers, for example, sell stored-value cards that customers can use to buy goods and services. Such transactions, he said, threaten to cut banks out of the payment system.
"The bank has always been the place where the money comes and goes," he said. "That's changing."