ABA Banking Journal - November 2010 - (Page 40)
Does banker involvement make a difference?
An interview with James Ballentine, ABA’s grassroots expert
ABA Banking Journal: Has financial reform stimulated or suppressed banker involvement? James Ballentine: When there are people fundamentally seeking to change your industry, you’re more likely to get involved. There’s a tidal wave of laws and regulations coming. Bankers want to ensure that legislators understand what this fundamental change will mean to their bank and their customers. ABABJ: What’s the biggest obstacle to involvement? JB: Bankers have jobs. In the past, a lot of bankers have seen it as the association’s job to carry the message forward. That’s changed. They now see it as their personal responsibility to get involved. That’s very important. More activism benefits the industry. ABABJ: Which is more important—writing to a Member of Congress or meeting with him or her? JB: Step one is a letter-writing campaign. Letters open the door and need to be done just to keep up with those on the other side of an issue. Step two is establishing a solid relationship between the banker and the Member of Congress. Both are effective and important. ABABJ: What’s the goal of a contact? JB: The best lobbying is an education effort—laying out what the issue is in a practical, fundamental way. So the goal is first to educate, second to attempt to persuade, and third, to get an understanding of where the Member of Congress is. Does he or she understand both sides of the issue? ABABJ: Are bankers intimidated by meeting with their Congressman? JB: Some bankers cringe at the thought of talking to their elected representatives. They’re afraid of a question that they can’t answer. But bankers do a better job than they know. Meeting with your Member is just like making a business loan—it’s starting a relationship and having a conversation. Both sides need to be educated about the other and the practical implications of an issue. It’s
40 | ABA BANKING JOURNAL | november 2010
incumbent upon ABA to prepare bankers so their comfort level is high. ABABJ: Are there issues where grassroots has made the difference on an issue? JB: Definitely. Take bankruptcy. This is an issue that the industry could have very easily lost. But with great grassroots pressure, we came out victorious. Years of educating Members of Congress laid the groundwork. It paid off when it was defeated overwhelmingly on the House side. The time it takes can be frustrating for bankers. Congress is not like the city council or the state legislature where a bill may be brought up on Monday, have a hearing on Tuesday, and be voted on that Wednesday. We’re laying the groundwork for action six months or a year or two from now. ABABJ: How do you see grassroots’ potential? JB: I am always energized about grassroots. More importantly, bankers are energized like never before. When we can get 40,000 or 50,000 people to respond immediately, it can mean victory for the industry. We will have an impact. James Ballentine is SVP, Grassroots and Political Operations at ABA. He can be reached at email@example.com.
If you would like to try to load the digital publication without using Flash Player detection, please click here.