Most of our contests for the presidency of the Schmidlap National Bank (for one day only, of course) have tried to generate ideas that may be useful to you. This one is different. It is to help the state trade associations.
What brings this up?
I was in Concord, N.H., on my way to address the Northern New England School of Banking. This operation is run by the Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine bankers associations and has taken an unusual tack: Its new director, Maurice P. Shea 3d, is a well-known and loved retired bank president instead of an academic. The school's enthusiastic, largely female student body is thus getting a curriculum that only a full-time banker with insight into the industry's real deficiencies could provide.
Gerald H. Little, president of the New Hampshire Bankers Association, is a young, enthusiastic leader who appears to know everyone in the state. Between Gerald and his lobbyist, Diane Vickers, a person so bright and hardworking I think she could successfully head a committee to prevent removal of toxic waste, the 400 Assembly members and 24 senators of the Granite State get effective communication on what the banks are and should be doing, and what it means for the people they represent.
I asked Gerald what he felt his three main missions were, and he replied: Lobbying, training, and communicating. And when I talked to bankers and then saw a survey the NHBA ha taken a year ago, I found that this was right on target with what the bankers want.
Fine, great - and I know I would get similar responses from most other state trade group executives. But when I asked Gerald what his most important job is today, he said, "To keep the association alive."
What is Gerald's problem?
Seven years ago New Hampshire had 102 banks; now it has 49.
Fewer members means less in dues. And the big banks also object to a dues schedule based on volume of deposits when voting is on a one-bank, one-vote basis.
The trade group has made a compromise by putting a higher minimum on dues and a lower maximum, so that the large banks feel the structure is more fair.
To make dues dollars go further, the association has teamed up with groups in other states for many functions, including the northern New England banking school. Three state associations support that venture, which demands far more in resources than any one of them can provides.
Banking trade groups have tried other way of making money, but they have drawbacks.
Some trade associations, notably the well-run Independent Bankers Association of America, have begun to stress fee-based services.
A problem with this approach is that offering joint purchasing of supplies or consolidated insurance agency service puts a trade group in competition with local vendors and agents - on which local banks rely for deposits and good will.
Similarly, people like Gerald Little worry that emphasizing fee-based programs, like retreat-style meetings with people who can affect the banking environment, can detract from a trade group's basic job.
Some have thought of new directions, such as group hiring of legal and other experts to help local banks comply with regulations. The experts could field inquiries so the local banks wouldn't need to find specialists of their own every time a problem arose. The program could also send a compliance check list every month, so banks that followed it could confidently devote their energies to other areas.
What else can the state trade associations do? Maybe there are useful services that the old correspondent banks used to provide before they became competitors instead of advisers to the smaller banks?
Your suggestions are needed on how state bankers associations can generate more revenue without having dues become onerous.
The best suggestion will win the Schmidlap presidency. But all useful ideas will be published. I hope they help these groups retain their usefulness to the industry.
Mr. Nadler is a contributing editor of the American Banker and professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.