The Missouri Bankers Association is hoping to avoid an internal fight over its position on the explosive interstate branching issue by holding a series of meetings this week across the state.
Officials of the trade group, which has not yet taken a position, are meeting with bankers just weeks after large and small members of the Colorado Bankers Association clashed over the interstate branching issue.
Five of the Colorado association's largest members threatened to leave the trade group by Jan. 9 after it voted to "opt out" of the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Act. But last week the five said they would not leave, and would work from within to change the voting procedure.
"No one has approached us with the same vehemence they have in Colorado," said Bill Ratliff, senior vice president of the Missouri Bankers Association. "The purpose of this (the meetings) is strictly education and to show them (bankers) what's in the bill. Where we go from here will be up to our board."
About 250 bankers were registered for meetings this week in Cape Girardeau, Jefferson City, Kansas City, Macon, St. Louis, and Springfield, with additional walk-ins expected, Mr. Ratliff said.
Ellen Lamb, assistant vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Conference of State Bank Supervisors, said she would brief bankers on the bill at the meetings.
"It's an issue that has gotten very emotional in many states," Ms. Lamb said. "What we've tried to do in our materials is demystify the process and explain to them what the bill does and doesn't do."
For instance, she said she has heard false rumors that if a state opts out, it can't ever opt back into the legislation.
While the Missouri Bankers Association has not yet taken a position the Missouri Independent Bankers Association is backing opt-out legislation at the state level.
Opting out of the branching component of the Reigle-Neal bill would protect community banks from competition by blocking institutions chartered in other states from branching into the state.
Dale Griessel, president of $17 million-asset Bank of Rothville, said that although some independent banks will support opt-out legislation at all costs, "I'm not sure they represent the majority of community institutions."
Mr. Griessel himself has gone back and forth on the issue and planned to attend a meeting in Macon, Mo., on Wednesday.
Even though he has not made up his mind, he hopes the Missouri Bankers Association will take a stand if the membership agrees on a position.
Paul Childers, president of $24 million-asset Missouri Southern Bank, West Plains, planned to attend today's meeting in Springfield, Mo., because he has not yet made up his mind on the opt-out issue. "I think it's an obligation of the bankers" to attend the meetings, he said.
Mr. Childers said more spats like those in Colorado are not good for the industry.
"We need to work together on this thing," he said.