Iowan Alan R. Tubbs's yearlong stint as president of the American Bankers Association was no ceremonial joyride.

In December 1991, two months after the Iowa banker assumed the post, Congress dropped the equivalent of an A-bomb on the banking industry in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act of 1991.

From the industry's perspective, the law is a colossal disaster that is running up administrative costs and strangling the ability of banks to compete with unregulated financial-service companies.

As a result, instead of basking in the limelight, Mr. Tubbs and his colleagues found themselves spending the last two months of 1991 and much of 1992 on damage control.

But Mr. Tubbs, 48, never expected anything different.

"There's no question that it was a tough year," said the banker whose one-year term ends this week. |When we looked at the industry last October, we were sitting on the precipice of the most radical banking bill in 50 years.

"There was talk of the FDIC fund going negative for the first time ever. There was a terrible atmosphere for banking in Washington, and the industry wasn't together on a number of issues."

As bad as the banking law turned out, it could have been a lot worse but for the fire-fighting efforts of the ABA and other trade groups, said Mr. Tubbs, a doctor of economics who is president of Maquoketa State Bank and First Central State Bank, DeWitt, Iowa.

Some Wins, Some Losses

For one thing, Mr. Tubbs said, the industry groups successfully snuffed out attempts in Congress to require banks to cash government-issued checks for noncustomers.

The groups also blocked an attempt to roll back insurance powers that banks had already won. And they successfully protested a move to reduce deposit insurance coverage, Mr. Tubbs said.

Unfortunately, he added, the groups weren't able to persuade Congress to soften the blows of the improvement act before it was signed into law at yearend 1991. So this year, the ABA began taking steps to have some of the more onerous provisions rolled back.

Throughout 1992, Mr. Tubbs gave speeches around the country urging bankers to speak up against burdensome regulations. And he met with dozens of members of Congress to hammer home the message that more legislation like the FDIC improvement act would ruin the industry.

"Perhaps the thing that surprised me the most was the lack of understanding Congress had in general about how the banking industry worked," he said.

Though the newly passed banking law was the largest problem on Mr. Tubbs's plate, it wasn't the only one. The image of the banking industry was another.

Congress and the media were battering banks by comparing what was happening to their industry in the 1990s to the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s. That type of publicity tarnished the image of banks, Mr. Tubbs said.

To combat the problem, he initiated a mailing campaign encouraging 9,000 ABA members to "get out and tell the good side of the headlines and to talk about what they are doing."

The message was taken to heart. Many bankers started talking up their positives, said Neil Milner, executive vice president and chief executive of the Iowa Bankers Association.

Mr. Tubbs is leaving his ABA office in an optimistic frame of mind. He said the industry's record earnings this year show that banking isn't the dying business many experts have made it out to be.

Nonetheless, Mr. Tubbs said, the industry still must fight to reduce the overload of regulations coming out of FDICIA.

"We'd sure like to see a lot of the unnecessary regulation that fell out of FDICIA repealed," he said.

"I have a sense the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way on this regulation."

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