Stewards of Our Industry
By James Hyman
First, I want to thank the members of NJBankers for the honor of my election as the 2004-2005 chairman of the association during our annual convention at Turnberry Isle in Florida. I am both grateful and humbled to be working in concert with my fellow officers, First Vice Chairman Ted Bessler, Second Vice Chairman Mike Quick and Treasurer Tom Gregor, along with a board of other outstanding banker professionals.
The convention at Turnberry was one of the best in my recent memory. Despite the typical south Florida winds and late afternoon thundershowers, the setting was absolutely superb, as many convention goers remarked. The program was not only of high professional quality and informative, it was also heartfelt and moving at times. The Convention Committee, chaired by Roger Bosma, and the association staff did a great job!
Under former Chairman Robert Corcoran’s leadership, much was accomplished at NJBankers. His work toward aiming the organization in a new direction was much appreciated as evidenced by the well-deserved standing ovation he received at the conclusion of his remarks at the convention. As your new chairman, I am dedicated to building upon those initiatives.
A Vision of Strength
My vision for NJBankers is to strengthen and grow our organization by emphasizing the word our. I believe very strongly that each of us as banking professionals bears the responsibility to be “Stewards of Our Industry.” As the presiding senior executives of this industry, we have inherited that legacy. As our industry representative, therefore, the only way NJBankers can truly attain the recognition necessary to effect favorable policy and positive public image is with our support and involvement. Put another way, the success of NJBankers is not measured by what we can take from the association, but by what we give to it … particularly in the ways of financial support and time.
This does not mean we should not be able to expect benefits from membership. You have every reason to expect, and in fact demand, them. Amongst the host of educational and professional offerings our full-time professionals are there to provide: timely responses to your inquiries; high visibility with legislators, regulators, the press and the public; and regular updates on issues affecting our industry. Beyond all of these services, NJBankers provides all of us the opportunity to gather in various venues that support networking and appreciation for the challenges of leading and competing in our industry today. Our professionals are a dedicated group that is working hard to deliver on all of your expectations.
On the other hand, we are the greater investors in this industry and, quite candidly, have the most to gain or lose. For that reason your financial support both in dues and through JEBPAC is not only crucial, but also a good investment. As such, timely responses to dues billings and JEBPAC solicitations better enable the organization to devote maximum time to issues and less time on administration, thereby maximizing the effectiveness of our staff.
Nowhere is the delay in response seen greater than in JEBPAC. Some banks annually have 100 percent participation of their directors and officers who generously contribute, not because they have to, but because they realize the importance of doing so. On the other hand, many banks go year after year without responding at all. Clearly the lobbying efforts of our association are intended to help all of our banks. If all would participate in JEBPAC, our efforts would be far better financed and more likely to be effective.
As “Stewards of Our Industry,” we also need to be active participants when called upon. The association gains much of its direct input from its members through the committee process. We have nearly 20 standing committees, which cover the waterfront of the various industry disciplines and governance of the organization.
Many member institutions have identified individuals to serve on committees, while some have not. The committees, among other things, review legislation and recommend association positions on legislation, initiate needed legislation and identify educational and training needs within their disciplines. Although we usually ask for committee recommendations on an attached form that accompanies the annual dues bill, members are welcome to offer names of bank officers to serve on a respective committee throughout the course of the year. If we have room we may be able to accommodate a request immediately or, at the very least, consider their appointment for the following year, as one-third of the members in most committees rotate off.
We are currently reorganizing all committees to assure fair and balanced member representation. Once completed, committees will begin to meet regularly. Attendance at committee meetings has been fairly good over the past year, and that goes a long way toward the arrival of consensus. Committee chairs are working hard at establishing meeting dates that allow most members to attend.
Participation in NJBankers-sponsored events, training programs, retreats and even our convention is also part of stewardship. Association committees work hard at identifying and delivering timely information on relevant topics with quality speakers at all of these venues. Patronizing their efforts is beneficial to the association and your own institution. That leads to our current efforts to organize a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators, ABA representatives and regulators. To be held June 16-17, this is the first such trip since 1993. A strong attendance will go a long way toward demonstrating the seriousness of our interests and concerns about issues facing our industry.
The Government Relations Committee is diligently working on the Action Bankers Councils (ABCs) initiative. This network will place members in direct communication with community and state government leaders. Its success is built upon member commitment and stewardship to the task. NJBankers is busy working for the industry and has vital mechanisms, such as the ABCs, in place. Please make a point to read Rob Tartaglia’s "Action in Trenton" column on page 6 of this issue, which details the importance of this program.
The question often arises, “What can I do to help?” In response to the question I might suggest paying close attention to member communications from NJBankers and responding promptly whenever possible. The process is frustrated when an inquiry is sent out on a high-profile issue and there is little or no response. It’s likened to sending the military off to war without ammunition. Unfortunately, the legislative process, on occasion, doesn’t allow much time to respond to legislative matters in order to minimize responses and keep would-be opposition off-balance - so much for the “democratic” process.
Support and Service
As a steward of the industry, I believe that it is important that we support those businesses that support our association. I hope you feel the same way. When approached by a vendor one of the first things to ask is, "Are you an affiliate of NJBankers?” If they aren’t, when learning they can be for a mere $1,350 annual dues fee, they usually have no problem in becoming one. To date, we have over 120 affiliates. Susan Bonin, who heads up the NJBA Service Corp., will gladly provide an affiliate application. Affiliate members can be confirmed by way of the association’s Web site, where each is listed. This is not to say that every member has to purchase from an affiliate, but I believe it is incumbent upon us to at least afford those vendors, who generously support our association, the courtesy of a visit to our banks.
Another service provided members under the Service Corp. is our employee benefit insurance program, of which all members, including affiliates, are welcome to take advantage. The rates are competitive and the service is superb. In reality, purchasing the bank’s insurance products through the association renders an additional payback, as commissions help to offset the association’s operating costs and hold dues down.
NJBankers has just unveiled a new service to help fight fraud and other crimes that may affect your bank. FinCrime, detailed in this issues cover story on page 16, is an anti-fraud network that provides criminal activity information to all users in cooperation with law enforcement and links up with other states in the network. New Jersey is the first in the region to offer the service, with other neighboring states expected to soon follow. After the initial trial period, the cost to join the network is nominal - $300 per member and $450 per non-member - to cover costs. We believe this to be a very worthwhile service, as it has led to apprehensions of criminals in other states.
As part of our enhanced communications efforts, we have also been conducting well-attended CEO Focus Groups throughout the state to gain input directly from our members. This is imperative to maintain the timely relevance of the association. To put it simply, NJBankers is committed to fostering industry stewardship, as we believe it is our duty to do nothing less.
NJBankers has done much over the past year to improve communications with its members by introducing its Web site. The site has been in operation for the past six months and remains a work in progress. If you haven’t visited www.njbankers.com, I strongly urge you to do so. Not only does it inform users about NJBankers and its programs, it also provides, among other things, important industry news, legislative and regulatory updates and direct links to our regulators.
Lastly, in recent months one of our banks opted to drop its membership deciding they can better go it alone. Many of their officers had been contributors on our committees and participants in our events, yet the decision was final, was made at the very top and, as such, we all lost. I hope their leadership reconsiders that decision, realizes the value they bring to our industry through participation in this organization and, in the near future, rejoins our ranks.
Each of us is a leader in our own way, and all of us are called upon to chart the best course possible for our banks, but none of us are an island. NJBankers is the bridge that connects us all. I urge you to do what you can to keep that bridge strong.
James Hyman is president and chief executive officer of Hopewell Valley Community Bank, based in Pennington.