The president of the nation's largest thrift trade group said members must improve their lobbying skills if they hope to win over Washington lawmakers.
Speaking at the annual convention of America's Community Bankers here this week, Paul A. Schosberg acknowledged that members have been "down and desperate" since Congress failed to address some key thrift issues before recessing last month.
At the top of the trade group's agenda were measures to reform the Federal Home Loan Bank System and to repeal a law that bars banks and thrifts from paying interest on business checking accounts.
Mr. Schosberg said bankers need to meet with members of Congress and explain to them that reforms could mean more economic growth in the communities they represent.
"We need to translate for the men and women of Congress what these issues mean to local economic prosperity and the lifeline of credit," he said.
His plea for members to become more politically involved echoed the comments of Bob Dole, the former GOP presidential candidate and Senate majority leader, who had addressed the group earlier.
Mr. Dole advised the thrift executives to meet with representatives one- on-one when the legislators visit their home districts. Washington visits are not as effective, he said, because legislators are often distracted by policy votes and other issues on Capitol Hill.
"In a very objective way, you need to say, 'These are our top priorities,'" he said in an interview after his speech.
And he urged bankers to keep applying the pressure.
"Some members have a hearing problem that improves every two years," Mr. Dole joked. "The important thing is to make contact more than once."
Thrift officials at the conference acknowledged they were discouraged by recent legislative setbacks and would take Mr. Schosberg's and Mr. Dole's comments to heart.
"The grassroots efforts are going to have to come up," said Robert Zyla, president of Prestige Bank in Pleasant Hills, Pa. "I know I'm going to try harder next time."
Vic Oakes, a director at Oswego City Savings Bank, agreed. The industry, he said, should take a lesson from the credit unions, whose members and officials descended on Washington en masse and ultimately won the right to expand their member-recruitment fields.
"They outfoxed us in their ability to get things done," Mr. Oakes said.