The year-2000 computer bug will trump hula dancers as nearly 1,000 members of the Independent Bankers Association of America gather here today for their annual convention.
A general membership session will include a panel discussion on year- 2000, and three workshops will be devoted to the computer problem. It is also expected to be mentioned in speeches by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig, and acting Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Andrew C. Hove.
"This is the hottest regulatory issue going," said Kenneth A. Guenther, IBAA executive vice president. "Every time you look into it, there is another aspect of it that you haven't considered.
"Some community banks are lagging a bit," he added. "So we thought this was suitable for the general interest session."
FDIC Director Joseph H. Neely, who will lead the year-2000 panel discussion, said the bug is one of the biggest challenges facing community banks. "Raising the consciousness of year-2000 is one of the most positive things we can do," Mr. Neely said. "It will cause everyone to take a closer look at how they approach their situation."
Though the convention is at the swank Hilton Hawaiian Village, its agenda resembles an executive MBA program.
Crammed into the first two days are 54 workshops on everything from estate planning to advertising to rural economic development. In addition, the group has five special seminars beginning at 6:30 a.m. on topics ranging from securities portfolios to residential lending. There will also be an entire day of activities for directors on Sunday.
"The convention is a major education forum," Mr. Guenther said. "They come as much for the workshops as for the stars at the general sessions. We wouldn't do it if we didn't have the interest. These sessions have been standing room only."
The convention won't be all work.
Attendees will have every afternoon free, and major receptions are set for four nights, including Wednesday night's finale banquet with music by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, whose hits include "Walk Like a Man" and "Big Girls Don't Cry."
Bill Sones, the IBAA's departing president and the chief executive of State Bank and Trust Co., Brookhaven, Miss., said he was looking forward to tonight's "Blue Hawaii Beach Party," which features boardwalk foods and Elvis music.
"Elvis was born in Mississippi," he noted. "In fact, many in Mississippi say he is still roaming the countryside."
Mr. Sones, asked to evaluate his tenure as IBAA president, said it had been a great year because the group managed to block a financial reform bill.
"The status quo is not too bad," Mr. Sones said. "Banking is at an all- time high in performance. Our system is the envy of the world. So we don't want legislation that imposes more risk on the system, and we don't want this Congress to be known as the one that undid the finest banking system in the world."
Still, Mr. Sones said he is anxious to pass the gavel. "It has been a year of hard travel and hard work," he said. "It is like working two jobs."
The convention, titled "Community Banking: Financing America's Future," features all three federal banking regulators. Mr. Greenspan takes center stage Tuesday via a live feed from Washington. He will give speak on the effect of the Asian financial crisis on U.S. banks and take questions.
Mr. Guenther said the Fed chairman, who has not missed an IBAA convention in seven years, could not leave Washington for three days, given the turmoil in Asia.
Also speaking is Mr. Hove, who is scheduled to discuss electronic banking and unitary thrift holding companies.
Wednesday's events will include an appearance by Mr. Ludwig, who is expected to talk about the future of community banking.
This year's conference is attracting 2,600 bankers, vendors, and others. That's down nearly 800 from last year's shindig in Phoenix, but up slightly from 1995's, which was also in Hawaii.
"We are a little bit lower because there is less space for exhibitors, and it is a long trip," said Jan Meyer, the IBAA's director of conferences.
The 147 exhibitors include scores of technology and insurance companies, including IBM, Fiserv, and Traveler's Insurance Co. The IBAA also is setting up a computer lab to teach chief executives how to surf the Internet and use some of the newest software.
The flashiest exhibit will be staged by Town Services, a Norcross, Ga.- based automated transaction processing firm that will offer nonalcoholic pina coladas and feature hula dancers throughout the convention.
The IBAA also is running a contest with the 55 exhibitors who are corporate members of the trade group. Bankers will be able to pick up keys at these exhibitors, which they can use to try to open a treasure chest. Mark Traeger, IBAA's associate director of conferences and exhibits, declined to disclose the prizes.
Thomas Cook is hosting a virtual golf contest. Bankers will try to hit the virtual ball as close as possible to the hole. All entrants will receive golf balls, and the winner gets a cash award. The firm also has recruited all-star quarterback Jim Plunkett, who led the Raiders to two Super Bowl championships, to pose for pictures with bankers on Sunday.