While community bankers were encouraged by a recent meeting with President Trump, many recognize that their top policymaking priority is in danger of being swamped by other legislative battles.

With a fight over health care already underway, policymakers are expected to turn their attention soon to tax reform and the budget — leaving reg relief mostly overshadowed.

Community bankers were urged to lobby hard on the issue during the Independent Community Bankers of America annual convention in San Antonio this week to try to ensure regulatory relief stays on lawmakers' radar.

“We’re part of the priority. We're just not first in line,” said Paul Merski, who oversees congressional relations and strategy for the ICBA.

Camden Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America.
Cam Fine, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, is pushing members to lobby lawmakers to prioritize regulatory relief for banks. Bloomberg News

Cam Fine, the ICBA's chief executive, opened the convention by describing the current situation as a make-or-break moment.

“Before us stands the opportunity to pass significant, substantial regulatory relief,” Fine said. “We have the chance to truly overhaul our regulatory system and ensure tiered and proportional community bank regulations.”

But that can happen only if bankers lobby their representatives in Congress. Fine and Scott Heitkamp, the ICBA’s chairman-elect, exhorted the hundreds of bankers in attendance to tell Congress and the Trump administration to make good on promises of regulatory reform.

The recent Trump meeting has lifted bankers’ morale, said Rusty Cloutier, president and CEO of the $1.9 billion-asset MidSouth Bank in Lafayette, La.

“I cannot tell you how many good vibes it has created,” Cloutier said. “I’m very excited about the next six months. We could be disappointed, but I’m hoping for great things.”

Fine also discussed two adversaries, the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the credit union industry.

Although the standards board amended initial drafts of the Current Expected Credit Loss accounting standard it enacted in June to soften its impact on community banks, it was clear some hard feelings still linger.

“We didn’t pack it up when these accountants in their ivory tower in Connecticut wanted to radically change the loan-loss accounting methods used by community banks for generations,” Fine said.

He also made a reference to the lawsuit that the ICBA filed in September to challenge changes made by the National Credit Union Administration to regulations governing credit unions’ member business lending. Though a federal judge dismissed the ICBA’s suit earlier this year, Fine promised no letup in the group’s attacks on credit unions.

“I’ve had it with credit unions,” Fine said. “ICBA was deeply disappointed that our lawsuit against the [NCUA] was not successful, but that’s not going to stop us from continuing to stand up against credit unions and their captive regulator."

Chris Cole, the ICBA’s senior regulatory counsel, said after Fine’s speech that the group is still considering an appeal.

Cloutier said he was disappointed the lawsuit failed, though he said bankers are focusing more on the potential of achieving regulatory reform.

“We’re not so worried about what’s happening with the other guy,” Cloutier said. “We want to hear that life is going to get better for us.”

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