NORMAN, Okla. - If there is a freshman orientation for compliance officers, the American Bankers Association's National Compliance School is it.
I made it through just more than half of it.
As I left the school, held on the campus of the University of Oklahoma here, I felt drained, mentally and physically. But I also knew I had made some good friends, gained a much better understanding of the rules and regulations I have been drowning under during my two months as this paper's compliance reporter, and realized the vast amount of knowledge compliance officers must have to do their job.
In order to educate us on all the pertinent regs, days at the school had to be long and efficiently run. They seemed the former and were unquestionably the latter.
My stay in Norman began on Friday the 13th, hardly a good omen for someone who didn't have much knowledge on the topics he would be learning about. Add that to the fact my alma mater, the University of Texas, was playing the dreaded University of Oklahoma in football the next day, and this felt like unfriendly territory. But it didn't stay that way.
Beginning midafternoon on Friday, the first topic (and the only one for the first day and a half of the school) was Regulation Z: Truth-in-Lending.
The lecturer, examiner Alan Dombrow of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, had put together an impromptu multimedia presentation to make things more entertaining. He borrowed from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" movies, and "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Mr. Dombrow also superimposed himself, a la Forrest Gump, into a picture of President Johnson signing a bill into law. He also inserted Reg Z into famous historical and literary quotes at the top of each page of his long lecture outline, providing some entertainment during lulls in the lecture.
His presentation didn't have many, but several other speakers weren't quite so adept. The task ahead of these presenters was almost insurmountable.
Speaking on a picturesque Saturday and Sunday about dry, tedious regulations (which may be redundant) to people who had been sitting for eight hours already is unenviable at best.
Frequent funny stories and anecdotes, including some that the presenters would not want printed, boosted sagging spirits and eyelids. A skit by First Bank System Inc. vice president Michael D. Maher, FDIC examiner Lawrence R. Jackson, and NationsBank Corp. general counsel Robin K. Warren showing how poorly minorities and women are sometimes treated in banks brought the house down.
For the most part though, classes were classes: informative, thorough, and effective, but hardly riveting.
Like any true freshman orientation, the most entertaining class was Meeting People 101, over at the local watering hole. As the days went on, Mr. Bill's, about 100 yards from the classroom, got more and more crowded.
ABA officials made it clear that networking was as much part of this school as any lecture. Business cards were passed, handshakes were exchanged, and horror stories about dealing with these regulations were told constantly.
There was even a networking luncheon, where the tables in the dining hall were labeled by job title to allow people to meet their peers and talk about their problems.
I couldn't find a "reporters" table. There may have been a celebrity table, though. Among the participants: John Adams, John F. Kennedy, a Mr. Gephardt from Missouri, and two women named Anastasia and Selena.
But the shmoozing didn't stop at the luncheons. It continued at breaks in classes, in front of the TV watching the Texas-Oklahoma football game, riding the shuttle to and from the airport, and about everywhere else. Finding good people to talk with and learn about made the long days more bearable.
And they came from all backgrounds, states, and sizes of banks: Fernando from Florida, Krista and Dave from Ohio, Barb from Missouri, Jack from Illinois, Jill from Vermont, and Mark and Brandi from my home state of Texas. All these people made my stay in Norman fun, and also helped me learn more about the ins and outs of the business to which I am so new.
For me, a reporter at a banking school, that was the whole point. Memorizing every single disclosure that was thrown at me during the week wasn't as important as improving my knowledge of the purposes and methods behind these regulations and meeting the people it affects.