This year's Independent Bankers Association of America get-together was dubbed the 1997 Convention and Techworld, with a pithy subtitle: "High Touch Meets High Tech."

There were speeches about technology - the Internet, the application of new information systems to small-bank management. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan even talked about technology in his speech.

The space-age topics seemed to fall flat at a convention where the vast majority of the attendees are from Midwestern banks with less than $500 million of assets, many of which concentrate in a much more down to earth area - agriculture lending.

"I think the technology focus is a bit overplayed," said one Illinois banker who wished not to be identified. "We're all pretty much concentrating on running the bank in a regulatory environment that seems too weird to contemplate . . . That's enough work without worrying about the Internet."

Nonetheless, trade group leaders continue to push their members to devote more of their time to technology. There was a full complement of workshops on the subject for the first time, with Internet labs and other hands-on demonstrations of on-line banking services and alternative delivery systems.

"I urge all of you to think long and hard about new types of technology," outgoing IBAA president Richard Mount told the troops. "The cost of technology continues to come down."

Many bankers took this advice to heart, if indirectly. By far the most popular booth at the show was one that provided a computer analysis of your golf swing.


Agriculture held sway here Monday, however, with bankers cramming into meeting rooms to hear analyses of a market that is undergoing dramatic change.

The 1996 farm bill, popularly called the Freedom to Farm Act, would undo about 50 years of basic federal farm policy, phasing out most government involvement and subsidizing of the U.S. farm. The bill was recently passed by both the Senate and House, with differences currently being worked out in conference committee.

At a workshop featuring Kansas agriculture consultant Bill Helming, two sessions were devoted to the topic, both amounting to a requiem for the old way of financing agriculture. "Forget just about everything you know about farming," Mr. Helming said at one point.

Among his predictions for the next seven years was one that would startle most Beltway types: that the Department of Agriculture's staff in Washington would be cut by 80%.


Finally, in case you were wondering, the IBAA has taken a formal position on ethanol, a fuel produced from a corn derivative. The group "supports incentives for the continued production and expansion of ethanol," because of its potential positive impact on the Midwest economy and job growth.

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