Exploring the Possibilities
By Theodore D. Bessler
Wouldn’t life be dull if we didn’t explore the possibilities? Throughout the history of the planet, humankind has ventured into the world of the unknown to pursue the possibilities. The results don’t always live up to the expectations in some cases, while in other cases the results go far beyond the imaginable.
There was a time when in the minds of many, the world was flat until brave explorers like Columbus came along who were willing to go beyond the horizon and convince monarchs to finance their ventures. To peoples’ amazement, they found new fortunes and new opportunities and they didn’t fall off the edge in the process.
NJBankers is also exploring the possibilities and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be captain of the ship for 2005-2006. Likened to other chairmen before me, it cannot be done alone.
I am very fortunate to have an executive committee of fellow officers, First Vice Chairman Mike Quick, Second Vice Chairman Tom Gregor and Treasurer Roger Bosma, along with our board of trustees of seasoned bankers to help steer the ship. The association is also fortunate to have a crew of consummate professionals under the helm of our president, Stu Cameron.
We know from experience that the seas are not always tranquil, but I am confident that we have the ability to overcome whatever challenges come our way.
I also wish to thank the captain of my ship, Zev Rosen, chairman of Shore Community Bank, for allowing me to accept this honor and opportunity to serve our industry. His understanding of the importance of NJBankers to the bank and the industry as a whole was a key to my being able to assume the responsibility as chairman of our great organization.
As you may know, my journey to this point in my career has been a long one. I was reminded of this recently as I was preparing to move to my new home. While packing and going through things I came upon an old NJBankers convention program book from 1993. The convention that year was held at the Ritz Carlton Resort in Naples, Fla.
It was at that convention that I was going to be sworn in as chairman of the association, but just days before that happened my heightened responsibilities at Garden State Bank kept me from being able to accept the position. At that time, never did I imagine that some 12 years later I’d be afforded the opportunity again. I’ve learned along the way that although one may not know where the twists and turns of life’s journey will lead next, it is important to remain open to exploring the possibilities of how it can be done!
Speaking of exploring the possibilities, President Cameron and I recently returned from a wonderful convention hosted by the New Jersey League of Community Bankers at their invitation. Interestingly enough, it was held at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, the very location of our 1993 convention. Their president, Sam Damiano, who has announced his retirement at the end of the year, gave a very moving speech in which he spoke of a framed set of minutes from the early 20th century hanging in his office which speaks of a possible merger of both of our organizations.
In recent years we have made a couple of attempts at it, but were unable to consummate an agreement. As time moves on and the differences between us grow less and less, it seems that the possibility looms larger than ever. According to the American Bankers Association, such mergers have occurred in 21 states.
At our March board meeting at the annual convention in New Orleans, the board voted unanimously to start merger discussions with the league, providing that both their members and ours agreed to resume such talks. Our poll results came back with an overwhelming consensus to move forward with the talks and we are about to work with the league to set up the schedule. Although we don’t know where our discussions will ultimately lead and how long it will take to work out the details, we are entering the dialogue with open minds. We plan to provide updates when deemed appropriate.
A Moon Bean and a Banking Legacy
The featured speaker at the league’s convention was retired astronaut Alan Bean, who was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 12. He was the fourth astronaut ever to set foot on the moon. He talked about the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan who, like today’s astronauts, took risks to explore the possibility of new frontiers and leave a legacy for others to follow.
As he spoke it triggered the thought of applying this scenario to banking in New Jersey. We are all explorers trying to find new ways to advance the industry and leave behind a legacy of higher standards and services for future generations of bankers to build upon. Exploring the possibility of merging with the New Jersey League of Community Bankers has the potential of being a rewarding experience as we all look forward to making our contributions to this endeavor. We offer our many thanks to the league’s Immediate Past Chairman Gary Jolliffe for working with our former Chairman Jim Hyman to help bring our organizations closer together. Our best to Sam Damiano upon his well-deserved retirement and congratulations to the league’s newly elected Chairman Ray Hallock and his board of governors. We are looking forward to working together with the league toward attaining a new world of possibilities for the New Jersey banking industry and leaving behind a legacy for others to build upon.
In the meantime, not knowing the outcome of our discussions, the board has agreed to continue NJBankers in a “business as usual” manner so as not to lose any forward momentum. President Cameron and the association staff are committed to doing likewise. As your chairman, I am also committed to seeing that the accomplishments of recent years are sustained and expanded.
We will continue our trips to Washington, D.C. This year’s trip is scheduled for June 6 and 7. We expanded the program to include a visit to Treasury. This is of special significance during this era of the USA PATRIOT Act and the expanded reporting responsibilities of banks. Last year, following an 11-year hiatus, we returned to the nation’s capitol and had a valuable opportunity to share our concerns with regulators and members of Congress. We even had the thrill of bumping into now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had just finished dinner at the same restaurant where we were eating. You never know who you will see when you are there.
We will continue the Action Banker’s Program and our fight against fraud through our FinCrime Program, two great programs with success stories. Our Action Banker Councils are meeting regularly throughout the state. We are dialoguing across the breakfast table with an invited legislator, giving our point of view while hearing their issues and viewpoints. Although these sessions are extremely informative, it is the live communication that makes this program work. Our head of government relations, Rob Tartaglia, does a great job at facilitating these sessions. Any CEO or senior bank officer who would like to get involved should contact Rob and he will bring you on board.
We will continue banker education through AIB’s online training and the ABA’s e-banking learning program. We will continue our joint educational programs with the New Jersey League as well as continue our many telephone conferences. Last year nearly 100 educational programs were offered in addition to our 150 electronic online course offerings. We will also remain focused on promoting financial literacy through our cooperation with the New Jersey Division of Banking and the New Jersey Financial Literacy Awareness Network by encouraging our member banks to sponsor financial learning centers throughout the state.
IOLTA, Credit Unions and JEBPAC
We will continue utilizing our online Legislative Alert Center and we will continue our efforts to resolve the IOLTA issue once and for all. And make no mistake about it: We will continue our efforts with ABA to keep credit unions within the confines of the originally intended “common bond” concept.
Last year, along with our fellow state association members throughout the country, we jointly worked with ABA to beat back HR-3579 from being passed in Congress. As you may recall, the legislation, if enacted, would have expanded credit union commercial lending powers and lessened their capital requirements to a dangerous level. One thing is certain – credit unions will not give up easily on this initiative and have since reintroduced the legislation as HR-2317, Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act of 2005 (introduced May 12).
I strongly urge all members and their officers and staff, along with our friends and family, to go on the NJBankers Web site, www.njbankers.com, and click on the large ABA link on the right side of the home page. Once on the ABA Web site, scroll down to the Oppose Credit Unions’ Continued Growth section and follow the instructions to e-mail our congressional delegation urging them to oppose the legislation. It only takes a minute to do and it is too important to pass up.
Last year we set a new record in JEBPAC contributions by raising more than $73,000. Despite the accomplishment, we still missed the mark by $2,000. Close, but not enough. My point is, in reality it is not so much about the arbitrary number, it’s about the difference we can all make if we do our part. We can offer all the programs and services possible, but without participation we run the risk of always falling short. I, along with Chairman Hyman and the rest of the JEBPAC Committee, have agreed to raise the contribution bar to $100,000. We believe that this goal is very attainable. Let’s do it!!!
Our strength and presence is greatly enhanced through our continued alliances and coordination on issues of common interest with other trade groups such as the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the state Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Bar Association and the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants. We will also continue our close affiliation with our industry’s allied trade groups, including the New Jersey League of Community Bankers, the Mortgage Bankers Association of New Jersey and the New Jersey Financial Services Association.
We will continue to provide up-to-date industry information on the Web site and in our publications, and I urge our members to stay informed through these channels of communication. Members receive a copy of the nearly 200 bulletins we put out throughout the course of the year, but are always welcome to purchase additional subscriptions for other bank personnel where appropriate.
The banking statutes are also invaluable for attorneys and compliance officers and can be purchased through the association office. Annual updates can also be purchased by our subscription service. Last fall we introduced a Federal Regulatory Bulletin, which is written by legal experts in easy-to-understand language. I strongly recommend that de novo institutions purchase these publications.
We will also continue with our CEO focus groups and bank visitations, which we plan to schedule over the summer and the fall.
Our Web site is like wine – it improves with age. Please utilize it, if you don’t already. The Web site is a fast link to current industry, governmental/regulatory and educational training information. In our attempt to simplify life and make it more convenient, registrations for our educational programs can be made online and paid by credit card.
NJBA Service Corp.
Our for-profit arm of the association, the NJBA Service Corp., provides many employee health and welfare programs that can be tailored to meet a bank’s or affiliate’s needs. Likened to an independent insurance agent, we are not limited to a single carrier and can provide the best program possible. Jane Swanson of the staff is available to set up a consultation visit to assist any interested association member. The Service Corp. also oversees our affiliate membership program. Currently we have more than 125 affiliates in the program. We plan to continue to grow our affiliate program and encourage members to have an “open door” policy to those vendors and support service entities that are affiliated or endorsed by the association. I also believe it fitting to mention the retirement of our executive director, Susan Bonin, who has served us well throughout her 20-year tenure with us. She will be greatly missed. To her I extend my personal best wishes.
We are in the third year of our second-century renaissance and with each passing year we continue to grow stronger, think smarter and change where necessary to meet today’s banking demands. As an industry, we do many wonderful things for our communities and for our state as a whole. However, we do not always gain the recognition we deserve as bankers - we need to work diligently toward improving our societal image.
According to a recent survey by Mike Quick, our banks annually provide $15 million to more than 6,000 New Jersey charities and community service organizations. By no means is this information intended to be used for bragging rights, but rather for people in our communities and leaders in government to gain a better understanding of the good that banks do toward making a positive difference as good neighbors throughout our great state. We have attempted to tell some of that story in this issue’s cover story on community development.
I firmly believe that every eligible financial institution should be a member of NJBankers. No bank should rely on the rest of us to pay their way and represent their interests in Trenton and Washington. The time has come for all banks to rally around the industry flag and get involved. We are identifying every bank doing business in New Jersey and asking our members to work with us to get those few outstanding financial institutions into our association.
I view NJBankers as the collective voice of its members with a constant thread that ties the industry together. Simply put, “Unity with one voice!” Through the years I have experienced the importance of our association firsthand, whether being kept informed at a Consumer Credit Conference in Atlantic City, swapping ideas with a member of one of the association’s many committees, meeting with legislators and regulators in Trenton and Washington on behalf of our industry or simply networking with fellow New Jersey bankers at an association function. It’s hard to imagine what would become of our industry in this state without a strong and vibrant association with its vital frontline staff doing the job on a daily basis. It is our duty to keep it that way, whether we go it alone or as a merged entity, and to that end I pledge to you my commitment.
I’m excited about this entrusted opportunity to serve as your chairman, and by the time we get to Phoenix next March 15 for our 102nd annual convention, I believe we will look back on another association year filled with accomplishments as we explore the possibilities together for the betterment of our industry and those communities we serve.
Theodore D. Bessler is president and chief executive officer of Shore Community Bank, Toms River.