Q&A It's a deal: After eight months of merger talks, the U.S. League of Savings Institutions and the National Council of Community Bankers have agreed to tie the knot. All they need is the blessing of their 2,350 members, who will vote early next year.

In a telephone interview, U.S. League chairman Donald Shackelford, chairman of State Savings Bank, Columbus, Ohio, told American Banker reporter Debra Cope that he will work hard to win members' votes for the merger.

American Banker: How are your members taking the merger agreement?

Donald Shackelford: Knowing we've had these flirtations before, everyone's pretty surprised at how fast we've progressed.

But even before we started this process, we took a survey by Anat Bird and her colleagues at BDO Seidman. One conclusion - picked up from members all around the country - was that we ought to give real high priority to this merger.

Fragmentation has been a problem in our industry. And fragmentation in trade associations is not the best thing just as fragmentation in the regulatory process is not the best thing.

AB: Are there any cultural hurdles to overcome?

DS: Not really. These associations have been moving closer together for years.

I assume that over the next few months we'll spend more time talking to each other. Our policy positions have not been that far apart. Everybody's more capital-oriented. At the first S&L convention I attended, 12 years ago, nobody even mentioned the word; now we all have to build capital.

AB: Did the league concede too much ground by turning over half the board seats to an association one-sixth its size?

DS: I get that more frequently than any other question. The answer is: The only models that work for a merger are those where you give philosophic parity to the other guy. We're not trying to say: "I'm taller than you." We're equals.

It isn't like we're dividing up Granddaddy's farm. We're working on common future problems.

AB: Can anything derail this now?

DS: Anything can derail anything. But we've all come a long way since our first meeting, when they all sat on one side of the table and said: "These are our demands." By the end, everyone was mixing. And as we met from time to time over the months, I found myself agreeing more and more with some of their people.

AB: Any ideas for a new name?

DS: A lot of trial balloons have been floated, by me and others. I don't think I'm going to earn my stripes as a name-picker-outer.

We have agreed that we ought to pick a new name, but we weren't going to let that get in the way of anything else. We talked about names [during negotiating sessions], but it was more of a coffee-break topic. It's like picking the name for a new baby - the whole family gets into an argument.

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