Ken Fergeson looks like a banker -- blue pinstripe suit, a bank emblem pinned to his lapel. But get him talking and he's pure Oklahoma, with a folksy way of separating sense from nonsense.
Which is probably one reason he was chosen to be chairman of the American Bankers Association's Community Bank Council, a key group of 120 banks charged with making sure the ABA doesn't forget the biggest segment of its membership when setting its legislative agenda.
C. Kendrick Fergeson bought 80% of National Bank of Commerce in Altus, Okla., and became its chairman in 1985, after a career as a correspondent banker at a large Oklahoma City bank. He's been chairman of the Oklahoma Bankers Association and is in his first month of a year's tenure as chairman of the Community Bank Council.
In Washington this week for the Community Bank Council's twice-a-year meeting, Mr. Fergeson and his fellow members were talking to Capitol Hill staff about the regulatory burden and the need for legislation to take into account the role of small banks in the economy.
Q.: How much impact does the Community Bank Council on the ABA's policy development.
FERGESON: A large impact. ABA has changed its goovernment-relations concept over the last year. It is now built around the need to influence a specific senator or a specific representative, and these [community] bankers are the people that can influence elections.
Q.: Does the Community Bank Council take a formal position on interstate branching?
FERGESON: The way I understand it is: They are in favor of interstate branching as long as you can protect states' rights. At least that's Oklahoma's position. The council members want [each state] to be able to opt out.
Q.: That's at odds with the Independent Bankers Association of America, which wants to permit branching only in states that vote for it -- states that "opt in."
FERGESON: My own preference would be "opt in." Oklahoma we want banks to have a charter to operate in Oklahoma, so that we can have some control. With "opt out" I'm going to have to go lobby for them [legislators] to opt out. If it's "opt in," I won't have to do anything.
Q.: The council had a discussion this week on the superregulator concept. How did it go?
FERGESON: We have banks from $18 million up to $500 million. The consensus was, and my personal feeling is: We want want to maintain a choice in a dual banking system.
I'm a national bank. The comptroller has been real friendly lately, because they're losing a lot of banks. If there's real choice there between a state and federal charter, I want to have it.
Bankers would be kind of crazy to come out and say they're against efficiency in government.
But one of the things I worry about is that the regulators consolidate but we have the same number of examiners, same number of examinations, and the same number of regulations -- just all in one office.
Q.: So you would not support a superregulatory agency if the dual banking system wasn't maintained.
FERGESON: No. And the same with comingling of the insurance funds.
Some people have the feeling that if you consolidate the regulators, the funds will be next. We have some bankers dreaming that we'll even get our premiums lowered someday, or get a dividend back, like they used to.
Q.: Are you an IBAA member?
FERGESON: I've never seen a benefit.
We had a show of hands at the meeting of IBAA members that are also in the council. It was probably more than half. But a lot of people are involved for the products, particularly for the credit card program.
My personal belief is that the Community Bank Council of the ABA serves the purpose, of lobbying for the small banks and their survivability. The ABA represents banking, where IBAA represents only one segment.
Q.: Should there be different CRA regulations for community banks than for big banks.
FERGESON: For me to comply the same way a big bank has to comply is crazy.
Large banks that have a big geographic area -- they usually do their CRA analysis by ZIP code. Well, Altus only has one ZIP code.
I think there could be some easier compliance points for small banks if you lend to your community, have a high loan-to-deposit ratio. If you have a community development corporation, you could comply. If you have no complaints, you could complly.
We don't have a community development organization in Altus. In Kansas City, where the big banks have a host of community development organizations to choose from, it's different. We face an entirely different situation.