The North Carolina Bankers Association is recommending a merger of three of the industry's largest trade groups. The American Bankers Association, America's Community Bankers, and the Independent Bankers Association of America would have a stronger profile on Capitol Hill if they combined forces, according to Frederick Willetts 3d, chairman of the North Carolina Bankers.

"We in North Carolina, now being united, recognize the value of one voice to speak for the industry," said Mr. Willetts, who is also chairman and chief executive of Cooperative Bank, Wilmington.

Tar Heel State bankers said their association has been more effective since its 1997 merger with the Community Bankers Association of North Carolina. Ironically, the merger prompted the state's five largest banking companies to quit and form their own group.

The North Carolina Bankers said the consolidation should occur once Congress blends the bank and thrift charters and merges the federal deposit insurance funds.

But such moves are unlikely anytime soon, barring an unforeseen crisis, ACB president Paul A. Schosberg said. The industry is diversifying rapidly, and banks and thrifts are more protective of their charters than ever. As a result, combining charters-much less trade groups-is politically impossible right now, he said.


The House Banking Committee has scheduled a third day of hearings on financial reform. Chairman Jim Leach said he plans to have as many as 15 executives from the banking, insurance, and securities industries testify Feb. 10.

The committee has approached industry heavyweights including Merrill Lynch & Co. chairman and CEO David H. Komansky and J.P. Morgan & Co. vice chairman Michael E. Patterson.

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan is confirmed for Feb. 11, and Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin is to appear Feb. 12. Consumer advocates and other regulators will be invited to testify, too.


Some Trade groups are already sounding off on financial reform proposals. Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America, blasted a draft reform bill circulated by Rep. John J. LaFalce because it would let banks conduct commercial activities, preserve unitary thrifts, and exclude reform of the Federal Home Loan Bank System.

"The LaFalce proposal reopens old wounds; resurfaces the differences among the banking, insurance, and securities industries"; and does not resolve the turf battle between the Fed and Treasury Department, Mr. Guenther wrote in a Jan. 19 letter to Rep. Leach.

The National Association of Independent Insurers asked Rep. Leach in a Jan. 21 letter to tighten the insurance language in his own bill so that federal regulators could not preempt state insurance laws if they are applied equally and do not intentionally target banks.

The American Insurance Association has shifted senior vice president of federal affairs David J. Pratt to the new post of senior vice president for business development.

He is succeeded by Leigh Ann Pusey, who has been the AIA's public affairs chief since 1996 and previously was communications director for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Stephen D. Johnson will be the group's lead lobbyist on financial reform. The association has also hired another lobbyist, John Savercool, who was Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm's administrative assistant for state affairs.

Separately, Pete Mills is to start Feb. 2 at the ISD/Shaw consulting firm, where he is to track consumer finance, mortgage, small-business, and student loan issues. Mr. Mills was vice president of government relations for Money Store.

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