SAN ANTONIO - The Independent Bankers Association of Texas turned 21 this year, giving rise to the slogan for its annual convention: "A Coming of Age."

But Christopher L. Williston, president of the state trade group, said the convention's credo reflects more than simply the passage of time. It also reflects a certain amount of political maturity, he said.

"Five years ago, we were just a sleepy little political organization that dealt with one or two issues a year," he said. "My charge when I got here was to turn this into the preferred banking organization in Texas."

And judging by the celebratory mood of the last week's convention - enhanced, no doubt, by the nearly perfect weather - Mr. Williston has succeeded admirably.

Bankers were particularly elated over their victory in keeping interstate branching out of Texas via the national law's "opt-out" provision. Many could be seen wearing baseball hats emblazoned with the words, "Opt-out is the law," on one side and "172-0" on the other - the latter a reference to the state Legislature's vote.

But there were also rumblings of concern about the future. And Mr. Williston noted that sessions dealing with technology and structural issues were big draws.

"People are asking themselves, 'What the hell should I do?' " he said. "If I decide to stay independent, how do I do that?"

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Texas Tech University is trying to make those decisions a little easier for community banks by giving them convenient access to the information superhighway. S. Scott MacDonald, director of the university's school of applied banking, used the convention to show off the "Southwest Bank Web," an Internet site that serves as a starting point for bankers trying to run down useful information.

The Internet site provides pointers to a number of data bases of specific interest to bankers. For example, the "home page," or starting point, offers a menu with pointers to a long list of government data bases, as well as guides to banks with Internet sites and other service providers of interest to banks.

"It's designed for banks in the Southwest that may not have a lot of familiarity with the Internet," said Mr. MacDonald. "The Internet is a very useful tool, but it can be hard to find what you're looking for sometimes."

To check out the Southwest Web, go to http://bankweb.ttu.edu/

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Texans may be losing their affection for one of their the home-state senators, Republican Phil Gramm, now that he's seeking the presidential nomination. Harvey Kronberg, an analyst who follows state politics, told a convention audience that the longtime Senate Banking Committee member has seen his popularity ratings drop below 50%.

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