Several community bankers have found a way deepen local ties — by throwing their hats into the political ring.

Leaders at smaller institutions often tout community involvement, and some have taken that engagement a step further by serving in roles ranging from part-time mayor to holding key seats in their state's legislature.

Each position has its own unique blend of opportunity and risk for those who are willing to put their names on a ballot.

"Bankers are the center of their communities," said Robby Moore, a senior vice president at Bank of Perry County who doubles as mayor of the bank's hometown of Lobelville, Tenn. "We realize how important a healthy economy is. If a bank prospers, so does the community and vice versa. You need people in public office who understand that."

Bankers who commit to public service have a chance to boost their personal profiles and can enhance their banks' reputations, industry experts said.

Paul Schaus, chief executive of consulting firm CCG Catalyst, once went to dinner with a banker who doubled as his town's mayor. Everyone at the restaurant knew the banker, largely because of his public role, Schaus said.

"It is certainly additional exposure for the bank," said Eleanor Schmidt, compliance officer at Cardinal Financial in Tysons Corner, Va., and a member of the Fairfax, Va., city council. "This is a relatively small community and people are appreciative of having that business background" on city council.

Serving in public office can often seen as another form of volunteerism, industry observers said.

Such was the case for Garrett Richter, president of First Florida Integrity Bank in Naples and president pro tempore in the Florida Senate.

Richter, who said he wanted to follow his father's philosophy of "learn, earn and return," first ran for public office while under a four-year noncompete agreement after selling First National Bank of Florida to Fifth Third Bancorp.

"In our bank, we have four commitments to meet — to the customers, employees, shareholders and the community," Richter said. "I see my service to the state as one of the means in which we meet the community priority."

Public service can also create potential landmines for the politician — and the bank.

"There can be problems with potential conflicts of interest," Schaus cautioned.

An often overlooked issue involves an individual's time commitments, which can be divided between career and political demands, said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois-Springfield. A banker who is thinking about a political run must carefully consider whether he or she could handle the dual responsibilities, he said.

"The more authority you have in either job, the more the pressure is," Redfield added. "It is very different to be on a park district board compared with being a member of a general assembly responsible for a $50 billion budget that is in a horrendous mess."

Bankers that hold public office said that technology, including smartphones and tablets, has greatly improved their ability to juggle tasks. Richter said that serving in both capacities forces him to multitask, while Moore said he often finds himself "getting up early and going to bed late to make sure" he meets the rigors of both jobs.

Additionally, bankers could potentially face issues that may be bad for their private-sector job but good for constituents, Redfield said. Even an appearance of impropriety could have a negative effect, he said, noting that transparency is extremely important.

Bankers can avoid potential entanglements by recusing themselves from voting on issues that could present a conflict, said Wayne Abernathy, executive vice president for financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs at the American Bankers Association.

Schmidt, for instance, works with her bank and the city's attorney to make sure she avoids potential conflicts of interest, though she has yet to face any issues.

Bankers who hold public office also risk losing business in areas such as municipal deposits, due to a need to avoid the appearance of inside dealing, which in turn could eventually frustrate a bank's board, said James Kaplan, a lawyer at Quarles & Brady.

Craig Meader, chairman and chief executive of First National Bank of Kansas in Burlington, said he can't point to any specific business gained through his service as mayor of Waverly, Kan., though he "can identify a few customers that have left because of the political process."

Sometimes tough calls can cause awkward moments with customers.

Waverly, for instance, is condemning three dilapidated houses that are owned by a long-time First National Bank customer. "Obviously he isn't happy, but he also knows they need to be torn down," Meader said.

Though no one has ever directly asked Meader to cross an ethical line, he said the "city would come first because I can't pull any favors here." Meader has recused himself from some decisions, including the selection of the $71 million-asset First National Bank to hold Waverly's deposits.

A bank could also face losing business if their employee and elected official votes a certain way on hot-button issues, Kaplan warned. Bankers may seek out municipal roles that are part time and nonpartisan as a way to help avoid this risk, or they could just shy away from highly contested races.

"There could be a lot of people who don't agree with you," Kaplan said. "You don't want to discourage potential customers over an issue that is not at the heart of the financial business, and you don't want [to lose a potential customer] because of your views on controversial political issues like same-sex marriage or abortion."

Richter, a Republican, said he has avoided these issues by trying to remain "statesmanly" in his political dealings. Running unopposed has also helped.

Despite risks, bankers can greatly benefit their communities by serving in public office, said Randy Dennis, president of DD&F Consulting Group. Bankers have expertise in fiscal matters that can benefit their state and local communities, he said.

Meader said he believes Waverly benefits from his service, noting that his political connections from previous work with Leadership Kansas and the Kansas Bankers Association can help his small town gain access to resources.

"You need to have someone who is conscious of the numbers and understands budgeting," Meader said. "Good political connections don't hurt either if you need grants or something. Small towns can't afford to hire the experts, so you need to have people who can pick up a phone and get that extra advice."

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