The ABA's New President Is a Veteran of Bank Crises

It was the banking crisis of the 1980s that brought Alan Tubbs into the ranks of the industry's leadership.

The president of two community banks in eastern Iowa, Mr. Tubbs found himself dealing day after day with the devastation of the Farm Belt. His customers had fallen on hard times, and as a result his banks were under pressure.

"We did a lot restructuring," he recalled, "but some of our borrowers didn't make it."

Headed Farm Bankers Division

With his banks' capital position weakening, Mr. Tubbs began working with the American Bankers Association and in 1984 became president of its agricultural bankers division. "That position brought me some visibility I didn't expect," he said.

In fact, the post turned out to be a milestone on an upward path. On Monday the 47-year-old banker became the 106th president of the American Bankers Association.

The office will bring Mr. Tubbs to the forefront of efforts to deal with the banking crisis of the 1990s. His first and foremost objective will be to help shepherd the Bush banking bill through Congress.

Mr. Tubbs, who has been heading the ABA's government relations council, is well-positioned to take charge of the trade group's legislative efforts. He expressed confidence about this aspect of his new duties.

"The odds are very high that we will have a successful completion of the recapitalization of the bank insurance bill and deposit insurance reform," he said.

Mr. Tubbs is especially concerned that the Bank Insurance Fund bailout be financed by the banking industry -- "that it be maintained as an industry-supported fund" rather than undergo a massive infusion of tax dollars, as did the thrift industry's fund.

Working for a Step Forward

He also hopes that deposit insurance reform will bring an end to the "too big to fail" doctrine, which many bankers believe played a major role in bringing down the insurance fund in the first place.

But the new ABA president wants to do much more than simply restore the industry to its precrisis status.

"The banking industry will like to see a step forward in terms of new products and services," he said.

In particular, said Mr. Tubbs, the authority to underwrite and sell mutual funds would be helpful to many banks whose best customers are diverting cash into investment vehicles that outperform low-yielding CDs.

On the issue of interstate branching, Mr. Tubbs is hopeful the industry can broker a compromise that would preserve a role for the states -- for example, to let banks enter new states only through acquisition of existing institutions, not by opening branches wherever they choose.

Ready to Lead the Cheering

Mr. Tubbs makes no bones about his willingness to serve as a cheerleader for the industry.

Much of the rap that banks take today in the press, he said, is undeserved and unfair -- tainted by the thrift industry's highly publicized problems.

"When I go through my priority list, after the banking bill, the item that is probably of most concern is the public reception of the industry's problems," he said.

In fact, Mr. Tubbs noted, the overwhelming majority of the nation's banks are profitable.

"Bankers would like to see us tell what's on the other side of the headlines, to talk about what banks do in communities," he said.

Mr. Tubbs acknowledges he doesn't have a national program in mind to salvage the industry's image. "But in our own communities, we all have to do a better job" of communicating a positive image for the industry, he said.

A Teacher, Then a Doer

Mr. Tubbs took a roundabout path into banking. After finishing his undergraduate studies at Iowa State University, he moved on to Cornell, where he earned a doctorate in agricultural economics. Then he moved to Oklahoma State University to teach that subject.

Meanwhile, his father -- who by then owned Maquoketa State Bank in Iowa -- was considering buying First Central State Bank in De Witt. But he wanted his son to run the bank.

Mr. Tubbs ran First Central from 1972 to 1981 and then slowly migrated to Maquoketa, which is where he can be found most days now -- except when he is traveling on ABA business.

His dad helps out. "That's the reason I was able to take on the ABA presidency," he said.

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