Five years ago, it might have seemed embarrassingly appropriate to hold a major banking convention in Las Vegas, a town synonymous with gambling and big-time losses.

But as the Independent Bankers Association of America gathers in Sin City for its annual convention this week, the connection between banks and empty pockets is one of the past.

"I think it's safe to say that the banking industry has stabilized," quipped IBAA president-elect Leland M. Stenehjem. "Last year was the most profitable in banking history. But there was a time when it might have been pretty ironic" to hold the convention in Las Vegas.

But the 1,300 community bankers attending this year's gathering will be focused on the future of banking, not the past.

Indeed, the role of technology in community banks will take center stage at this year's forum. A good number of the 140 booths in the "Techworld" exhibit hall were set up to help community bankers make sense of advances in on-line banking and electronic money.

Sunday's schedule included a session on how small banks could gear up to serve customers "regardless of whether they conduct business with you in person, by telephone, television, or computer." And today's seminars will give bankers information about on-line banking and "surfing the Net."

"This is going to be the highest-tech convention we've ever put together," said Kenneth A. Guenther, the IBAA's executive vice president. "The pace of technology is quickening to the extent that a lot of bankers who had thought, 'I really don't have to get into this with both feet,' are starting to do just that."

Community banks will be able to use a service at the convention to set up their own sites on the Internet's World Wide Web. And during Tuesday's general session, the IBAA will unveil Community Bank Exchange, an on-line service for members of the trade group.

"It will be like having America Online, except it's built specifically for community bankers," said outgoing IBAA president Richard Mount. The service initially will let bankers communicate directly with one another over the Internet. But eventually, Mr. Mount said, bank customers will benefit as well.

"It represents the beginning stages of our members' being able to offer home banking," said Mr. Mount, president of Saratoga National Bank, Saratoga, Calif.

For the fifth consecutive year, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan is to kick off the first general session Tuesday morning.

Slated to follow up is Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig, who is expected to address the future of bank insurance sales. Mr. Ludwig will update bankers on discussions his agency has had with state insurance commissioners regarding bank insurance sales.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Helfer is to speak Wednesday, the convention's final day.

Continuing the convention's technology theme, House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach is expected to address the meeting via satellite from Washington. He plans to give an update on his Glass-Steagall repeal bill.

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