America's Community Bankers will try to attract more commercial bank members as part of a new strategy.

The nation's largest thrift trade group has hired consulting firm KPMG Peat Marwick to help it map out a three-year plan, to be unveiled to ACB's 2,000 members in March.

"ACB is not just for thrifts anymore," said Robert P. Schmermund, the group's spokesman. "Community banking is a philosophy that is not determined by charter."

The group also plans to offer more products for its members to sell in their banks and additional educational programming, Mr. Schmermund said.

"Trade groups can't be social clubs anymore," he said.

Bankers have an ally when it comes to their distaste for credit unions' tax-exempt status: former presidential candidate and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

Mr. Dole, who said he once proposed legislation that would have subjected credit unions to the same taxes as banks, said in an interview that he wants "everyone to be on a level playing field."

Mr. Dole said bankers are doing a better job of lobbying Congress now than in the past. To improve the industry's position, bankers should have more face-to-face meetings with their representatives to outline their legislative agenda, he said.

If all else fails, bankers could consider adding some star power.

"Just hire me," he joked.

Bankers should consider investing in U.S. inner cities rather than turbulent foreign markets, a BankAmerica Corp. executive told ACB members.

William Goodyear, president of private banking, said low-income neighborhoods could provide opportunities beyond community reinvestment requirements.

An investment in Little Village, a Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago, yielded a 70% return on investment, he said, whereas investments in so- called emerging nations all lost money for the bank. Thailand investments lost 60%, South Korea 58%, Brazil 56%, and Indonesia 55%.

Mr. Goodyear said residents in low-income areas have tremendous spending power. Moreover, there's less competition there.

The Chicago program is still in the early stages, but BankAmerica officials are considering eventually rolling it out nationwide.

Community bankers got some good news about the U.S. economy from Beryl W. Sprinkel, who was under secretary of the Treasury Department during the Reagan administration.

Mr. Sprinkel said the outlook is strong for consumer spending, small- business growth, and real estate values-factors that most directly affect community banks' main lines of business. "I think your industry will come through this adjustment just fine," he said.

What do reserved bank tellers and screaming futures traders have in common? Quite a bit, says Phupinder Gill, president of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange's clearing house division.

Tellers and traders are both handling transactions and assess customers' needs by meeting with them face to face-a service that cannot be replaced by technology, Mr. Gill said.

"If you look the other trader in the eye, you can tell how strong he thinks his position is," he said.

In a pre-convention mailing, the ACB urged its members to vote in their local elections via absentee ballot before leaving for Chicago.

But William J. Landers, general counsel for Memphis-based Financial Institution Consulting Corp., told bankers that if they forgot to vote, it wasn't too late.

"Being that this is Chicago, they have a special booth set up for you," he said, poking fun at the city's history of voting fraud.

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