Oregons thrift trade group which had just eight members has quietly merged with the states larger bank trade group in search of more political clout.
The Oregon League of Financial Institutions, a 75-year-old thrift trade group, disbanded last month, and its members joined the Oregon Bankers Association, which now has 63 members.
The predominantly commercial banking group has given its thrift colleagues seats on its board of directors and on the executive committee, and Dave Barrows, former league president, has joined the associations government relations team as a lobbyist.
Tom Perrick, the associations president and chief executive officer, said the mergers motive was the desire to present a united front to the Oregon Legislature.
The issues that potentially divided banks from thrifts and savings and loans have largely gone away over the years, Mr. Perrick said, and we just wanted to be seen as a united banking industry.
For example, Congress passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999 defused one of the more divisive issues between banks and thrifts the ability of commercial companies to apply to start or buy a single, or unitary, thrift. Now only existing unitary thrift holding companies, and commercial companies that met a May 4, 1999, application deadline, may engage in nonfinancial activities, reducing the threat to banks from retail giants such as Wal-Mart or Target.
That and other provisions of the reform legislation helped level the playing field between thrifts and banks. Consequently, talk of the death of the federal thrift charter has diminished, Mr. Barrows said.
The main issue that divided thrifts from commercial banks in recent years is whether the thrift charter should live or be killed, but that seems to have gone away, he said. There still are cultural differences and issue differences, but they are not as important as they used to be.
State bank and thrift trade groups have linked up in North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, and other states in recent years because consolidation in the banking industry had thinned their membership bases. But Mr. Perrick said that consolidation has not really been a concern in Oregon and that the state has always been home to just a few banks.
There has been some mergers, he said, but in the last four to five years weve opened up 12 banks.
Though disagreements between thrifts and banks have declined, thrifts still need an independent national organization looking out for them, said Bob Schmermund, a spokesman for Americas Community Bankers, a thrift trade group.
I think its important that institutions of any charter feel like they have representation in Washington, he said, and clearly we are the national voice for thrifts and mutual savings institutions.
He added, however, that a small percentage of ACBs 1,200 members are commercial banks.
The thrift group once considered merging with the American Bankers Association, but the idea was scrapped in September 1999 when ACBs directors realized that it was not going to be a joining of equals but an acquisition of ACB by ABA, Mr. Schmermund said.