If going to Washington to lobby Congress isn't enough to bring about regulatory relief, then bankers are prepared to bring Congress closer to them.

The American Bankers Association has kicked off a new program, "Take Your Lawmaker to Work," that will give bankers across the country the chance to invite their representatives into local branches for an up-close look at how regulation is affecting operations.

"You don't know how a banking operation works and what the customer experience is like, unless you are actually in the bank," says James Ballentine, an executive vice president at the ABA. "I've had members of Congress call me after refinancing or buying a home saying, 'Now I understand all the paperwork people have to go through when we pass these laws.'"

Community banks have been arguing for years that some measures in the Dodd-Frank Act, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's qualified mortgage rule, are hurting their ability to lend to otherwise eligible customers. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have generally been supportive of easing the burden on smaller institutions, but that rhetoric has so far failed to translate into action.

Both the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee have taken up legislation this year that would provide regulatory relief to smaller banks and credit unions, but it's unclear if there's enough bipartisan consensus to get many of the measures passed into law. Whether bringing members of Congress to banks' front lines will be enough to break the impasse remains to be seen.

The ABA says the program, which borrows its name from the popular "Take Your Child to Work Day," is also an effort to educate newly elected officials and those members of Congress who don't work on banking issues regularly.

"What we really want them to do is talk with the customer-facing staff — those in the teller lines, opening new accounts, or in the loan department. We want lawmakers to know that a particular individual who might be good for a loan may not check of all the boxes," says Erin Scheithe, vice president of political advocacy at the ABA. "And we also want them to talk to the compliance department."

Bankers will be inviting lawmakers to join them during the Sept. 21 to 25 recess period. Scheithe says that nearly two dozen bankers have signed up for the program so far, and that she hopes at least 100 lawmakers will visit banks that week.

Curtis Tyner, the chief executive of Heritage Community Bank in Hartsville, S.C., who is involved with the ABA's grassroots committee, says he's already seen the benefits of bringing his congressman into the bank earlier this spring.

After showing Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., how the bank must navigate new mortgage rules, including QM, Tyner says the congressman asked for copies of the regulatory guidance the bank follows. Tyner says he plans to bring Rice back for the ABA's fall event, and that he and other local bankers are in touch with all of South Carolina's representatives in Congress.

"The reason we felt good about the visit is that when I explained a couple of [the new rules], he said, ‘You're kidding, right?'" Tyner says. "He was familiar with the rules, but now he's familiar with how they affect customers day-to-day."

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