WASHINGTON -- For Donald G. Ogilvie an the American Bankers Association, it's time to stand and deliver.
For more than a year, the ABA has waged a high-profile, high-stakes campaign against the increasing load of paperwork and complinace requrirements that bankers say has put them at a distinct disadvantage with their competitors.
"I think we will deliver," said Mr. Ogilvie, a one-time Department of Defense whiz kid who now is executive vice president of the ABA. "In fact, we have already delivered some."
How much more Mr. Ogilvie and his troops can deliver will be put to the test in the months to come. Regulators are at work now on an overhaul of the Community Reinvestment Act, and it is not far from clear whether bankers will like the new rules any better than the old ones.
Mr. Ogilvie cited the community development bank bill that passed the Senate Banking Committee in September as a sign of progress. "That bill has roughly 20 amendments from our bill in it," he said, referring to legislation the ABA drafted.
Getting There by Degrees
Most of the issues addressed are monitor, he admits, but the war on regulatory burden has to be waged one battle at a time.
"I try to explain to bankers, there's not magic silver bullet that will make all the regulations disappear overnight," he said. "And I think there is a good understanding among bankers that our strategy of doing this over a period of months or years has more prospect of succeeding than trying to do it all at once."
As the ABA begins its annual convention in San Diego, no issue weighs more heavily on the minds of bankers - nor looms higer on Mr. Ogilviehs agenda - than the regulatory burden.
'Our No. 1 Problem'
"Don't get me started preaching on that," groaned John R. Thomas, chairman and chief executive officer of First National Bank of Alexandria City, Ala.
"It's our No. 1 problem."
The industry's trade groups, he said, have simply been out-gunned by the consumer organizations which find it easier to capture the attention of lawmakers and reporters.
"I'm not very optimistic that we can turn it around," he added.
Mr. Oilvie, however, now in his eighth year at the helm of the ABA, is increasingly confident than banks can not only win back lost ground, but begin to advance into new territory.
Taking Aim at Crdit Unions
One target is credit unions. Bankers have long argued that the not for-for-profit financial service providers have an unfair advantage because of thier tax-exempt status.
With the ABA's backing, banks in five states have filed suit against credit unions, trying to limit the market they can serve. In addition, the ABA has urged the Multistate Tax Commission to recommend that states begin taxing credit unions.
Last week, the ABA wrote to a half-dozen key lawmakers, urging that mutual funds, insurance companies, and other financial service providers be required to make the same kind of truth-in-savings disclousures as banks.
Mr. Ogilvie refers to these competitors, which solicit business over the toll-free telelphone lines, as "the 800-number mutual funds" and argues that they should be subject to community reinvestment requirements, just as banks are.
The centerpiece of the ABA's efforts is a regulatory relief bill introduced by Rep. Jim Bacchus, D-Fla., and Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Nb. The bill, which the ABA played a big role in drafting, has enlisted more than 250 co-sponsors in the House - a decisive majority of the 435-member chamber. The support is so strong that congressional sources say House Banking Committee chairman Henry B. Gonzalez, who is at best skeptical of the industry's claims, may schedule a vote on a package including regulatory relief.
In addition to arguing for relief from old regulations, the ABA will also be pressing to secure new powers - and protect old ones, particularly insurance.
The Senate Banking Committee is expected to take up legislation that would authorize interstate branching activities.
Mr Ogilvie is confident the industry can beat back insurance restrictions, calling the measure "a nonstar."
More Lobby Competition
Part of the pressure to deliver in the lesiglative arena stems from increased competition among trade groups. The ABA represents most of the banking industry, but faces strong competition among community banks from the aggressive Independent Bankers Assciation of American and new competition for the loyalties of large banks.
Mr. Ogilvie said he doesn't believe that the recent merger of the Association of Bank Holding Companies and the Association of Reserve City Bankers into a new organization, The Bankers Roundtable, threatens his membership.
Moreover, he added, the key membership statistic that ABA focuses on - nonmembers - is showing signs of improvement. Because the industry is shrinking, the trade group looks at the number of banks that are not members as a measure of its market penetration.
"We are actually getting non-members back now," he said.
However, Mr. Ogilvie refuses to say how many banks belong to the association. He said that institutions representing 90% of the industry's assets are members.