The last time the American Bankers Association held its convention in Hawaii, the group came under heavy fire for its choice of locale.

It was 1988, and "60 Minutes" thoroughly skewered the event. The CBS news show featured bankers frolicking in an island paradise while the thrift industry crumpled and commercial banks groaned under the weight of a slowing economy.

On Saturday, when the ABA's annual blowout again opens in Hawaii, few eyebrows are likely to be raised.

After all, the banking industry is now stronger than ever, with profits expected to hit a record $50 billion this year. And the thrift industry's insurance fund was just shored up by Congress and President Clinton.

So it is that the ABA is planning four days of programming to help bank presidents keep the good times rolling. Events focus on growth, profitability, and product offerings.

"The program highlights the best practices in banking and state-of-the- art advancements in technology and customer service," said J. Douglas Adamson, the ABA's executive director of bank programs and organizer of this year's event.

But not all signs will be bullish in Hawaii.

Attendance is expected to be about 2,500, which would be the lowest since the 1960s. Consolidation has thinned the ranks of banks and bankers. Attendance is down about 100 from last year and more than 9,000 from the heydays of the late 1970s.

And some old issues continue to dog the industry. Former FDIC Chairman William Seidman, who addressed the 1988 convention, plans to tackle at least one of those issues in a speech Monday morning.

"Eight years ago my finale speech said you guys have got to get rid of the regulatory burden," Mr. Seidman said. "Eight years later we will review why they haven't gotten anywhere."

By and large, however, the conference is likely to have a decidedly upbeat tone, emphasizing how a profitable industry can make even more money.

In a session Tuesday morning, for example, marketing guru Martha Rogers will speak about "one-on-one" customer service.

"This is undoubtedly the hottest concept in marketing today," Mr. Adamson said. "You have to create the ability within your bank to customize products and services to each individual."

As the festivities get under way at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, plenty of celebrity talent will be on hand.

Larry King, the CNN talk show host, kicks off the conference Saturday morning with a discussion on the presidential campaign. Later in the four- day event, bankers will hear from Scott O'Grady, the Air Force captain downed in Yugoslavia, NBC weatherman Al Roker and Time magazine columnist Margaret Carlson.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer, and Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig are slated to give back-to- back 20-minute presentations Saturday. This is a change from previous years, when the regulators appeared separately.

"I'd like to tell you that was a well thought out strategy, but it really wasn't," Mr. Adamson said. "It just worked out that way."

The conference features a series of "strategic sessions," presenting the latest thinking on financial services. James B. Moore, president of the Mentis Corp., will discuss the business implications of stored-value cards, home banking, and Internet commerce.

"This will provide banks a good benchmark into how their peers are making their information technology investments," Mr. Moore said.

Meanwhile, the ABA will unveil several studies.

One will come from the ABA's Payment Systems Task Force, which has deliberated on electronic banking issues for the last 10 months. The study will recommend how the government should regulate this new business.

The ABA also will showcase "The Future of Banking: Part III," an analysis of the industry's financial prospects by Thomas K. Brown, an analyst at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette.

Also scheduled are 26 sessions on the nuts and bolts of banking. These 75-minute programs focus on competing with credit unions, selling insurance, operating supermarket branches, making mortgages for low-income residents, marketing small-business loans, and creating bank call centers.

No ABA convention would be complete without scores of vendors. The most popular booth might prove to be Lands' End Direct Merchants, the clothing manufacturer, which will give away polo shirts with the ABA logo.

The ABA convention in Honolulu in 1978 set the group's attendance record, 12,000. In 1988, about 5,000 people made the trip.

Back then, sessions were held in the city's convention center. This year, all events - except for one reception - will be at the Hilton. That may keep this convention from feeling as empty as last year's, which was held in the massive Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.