Trying to reposition itself for the future, the Bankers Roundtable is changing its name to the Financial Services Roundtable.
The trade group, which draws its members from the 125 largest banking companies, adopted the new moniker this month at its annual meeting in Naples, Fla., and is scheduled to unveil it officially today.
Newly elected president Robert W. Gillespie said the revamped identity underscores the diversification of banks into insurance and securities. But more important, he said, it signals the Roundtable's effort to broaden its mission and court nonbanks as members.
"The name change simply recognizes reality," said Mr. Gillespie, chairman and chief executive of KeyCorp, Cleveland. "We hope this will be a breakthrough in unifying our industry."
Gambling that Congress will overcome repeated failures and ultimately restructure the nation's financial laws, the Roundtable wants to fashion itself as the trade group that represents the Citigroup-like conglomerates that would be fostered under the legislation.
"We need a unified voice to speak on the importance to America's consumers and economy to have a world-class competitive financial services industry," Mr. Gillespie said in a phone interview Monday.
"Our goal is to get ourselves unified behind this legislation as aggressively as we can. We think we are the most logical organization to evolve into an integrated financial services industry trade group ... The industry has changed so rapidly, and the trade groups, frankly, have lagged behind."
But the Roundtable's new mission raises a host of questions, including whether a need exists for a broader trade group and, if so, whether nonbanks will want to join one started by bankers. Also, parochial concerns would have to be addressed, such as whether the Roundtable's smaller members could still belong.
Mr. Gillespie said the Roundtable will assemble a task force to explore these issues.
Top executives from securities firms and insurance companies will be invited to join the task force, which will be asked to spell out the group's new mission, establish membership criteria, and create a governing structure. A preliminary report will be presented at a conference here in mid-September.
"I expect a good deal of interest, a certain amount of skepticism, and very good discussions," Mr. Gillespie said.
But the initial reaction from these groups was unenthusiastic.
Gary E. Hughes, vice president and general counsel of the American Council of Life Insurance, questioned whether holding companies have enough unique issues and characteristics to justify an association.
He said many companies are cutting back on trade group memberships to save money and might prefer their existing trade groups because each product line would remain separately regulated under current proposals.
Even if an umbrella group is deemed necessary, insurance companies would be wary of the Roundtable, which has taken stances at odds with the insurance industry. "You want a neutral forum that is not going to be influenced by a long history of divergent policy positions," Mr. Hughes said.
A Securities Industry Association spokesman said that association is already responding to cross-industry mergers by hiring banking experts and forming a committee for broker-dealers owned by banks. "There are existing institutions at SIA that can address these issues for our member firms," the spokesman said.
Banking lobbyists, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, held mixed views.
"There's some logic to exploring the idea given what is going on in the marketplace, now that these firms are all in each other's businesses," a veteran lobbyist said.
"I think it is silly," another lobbyist responded. "I haven't run into an insurance company or securities firm interested in joining."
The rechristened Roundtable will have to contend with existing groups that could stake a claim to the same turf.
For instance, the Financial Services Council-whose 20 members include the country's largest banking, insurance, and securities companies-owns a similar name and has lobbied hard for reform legislation for years.
But Richard M. Whiting, the Roundtable's acting executive director, said his group is superior because its members are chief executive officers, not lobbyists. "It makes us more streamlined and focused and I think more effective," he said.
The role of small banks in the group is unclear. The smallest of the Roundtable's 90 members have $1 billion of assets. Smaller members could scare off securities and insurance firms. "The smaller the bank, the bigger the difference between the banks and the other two industries," a banking lobbyist said.
Mr. Gillespie said size limits for members have not been set, but added that diversified companies tend to be large.
Meanwhile, the group's search for a permanent executive director has been put on hold while the group refashions itself, Mr. Gillespie said. Some of the candidates already interviewed have the credentials to lead a broader group, he added.
"I'm pretty excited about the new mission of the organization," said former Rep. Steve Bartlett, who is among the candidates. "The great untold story is the economic impact of the large financial services companies have on the economy and on consumers ... The restructuring of the Bankers Roundtable is a good first step toward delivering that message."