By Theodore D. Bessler
A year ago at our convention in New Orleans, as the new chairman of NJBankers, part of my inaugural address focused on the theme of “exploring the possibilities.” And that we did.
I say we, because the mission could not have been completed without the help and support of our very able crew; namely, our Executive Committee – Mike Quick, Roger Bosma, Tom Gregor and Norm Beatty, who graciously replaced Tom as treasurer upon Tom’s retirement midway through the year.
The entire board of trustees did a great job supporting the mission throughout the year, along with individuals like Dennis DiLazzero, who stepped up to represent us on the IOLTA issue with a good degree of success; immediate past Chairman Jim Hyman, who set a new standard for JebPac fundraising; and Bob Meyer, who piloted the special Bylaws Revision Committee which was charged to update the rules that govern us.
I remember stating in my inaugural remarks that “results of our explorations don’t always live up to expectations in some cases.” This mission was no exception to that reality when it came to exploring the possibility of merging NJBankers and the New Jersey League of Community Bankers. The stars seemed to be lining up favorably due to the retirement of the League’s long-time president and the desire of both associations to unite as one voice in the legislative halls of Trenton.
But despite a strong commitment to fulfilling our responsibility to our members, along with a prevailing spirit of cooperation from the leadership of both parties, our attempt to consummate the merger did not become a reality. Nonetheless, both groups will continue to work closely together on legislative initiatives and educational training of common interest.
A year ago, our industry in New Jersey was struggling with an impossible IOLTA “Reasonable Return Standard.” Thanks to the efforts of Dennis DiLazzero, former president and CEO of Minotola Bank, and others, we explored the issue and were able to work out a compromise with the state Supreme Court and the IOLTA Board to establish a new Best Customer Standard. Although not totally to our liking, the new arrangement is far more manageable and reasonable than the former standard used for determining interest paid on attorneys’ trust accounts.
Some said it couldn’t be done, but during former Chairman Jim Hyman’s tenure as this year’s JebPac chairman, more contributions to the fund were raised than ever before. Contributions to JebPac are absolutely essential to the success of our government relations effort, both in Washington and Trenton. I urge every banker and affiliate to contribute to the fund within the legal voluntary guidelines.
Last year, President Cameron called to our attention the need to update our bylaws. Bob Meyer, executive vice president at Valley National Bank, assisted by Walter Horsting, also of Valley, stepped up and took the lead of the newly formed Bylaws Revision Committee. Today, as a result of those efforts, our bylaws have been updated to better reflect our organization and its governance in today’s environment.
During my remarks at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, I spoke of the need for the industry to work through their association to aid a societal need. Little did we know at the time that we were holding our convention in a city soon to be ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
As documented in the last issue of New Jersey Banker, many of our banks, affiliate members and their employees who contributed to the Red Cross through the association unselfishly joined fellow bankers and other Americans throughout the land and reached out to help the hurricane victims. Although New Orleans still had its Mardi Gras this year, I strongly urge us to continue our efforts to help people in the Gulf States who are still imperiled by this catastrophic event.
OUR FRONTLINE – GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
Our government relations efforts remain outstanding, as Vice President and Director Rob Tartaglia, our man on the frontlines in Trenton, works with our Counsel Mary Kay Roberts Esq. of Riker Danzig to protect our interests on a daily basis. The Action Bankers Council initiative continues to grow as bankers and government leaders meet to exchange thoughts and concerns related to the industry.
On the Washington scene, President Cameron has been working closely with the American Bankers Association on federal issues affecting banks in New Jersey. One of the highlights in recent years has been our visit to Washington to visit with ABA, regulatory leaders and members of our congressional delegation. This program, too, is growing and is one event not to be missed. I hope to see increased participation by member bank CEOs on our annual trip to Washington, May 16-17 of this year.
CHECKING CREDIT UNION EXPANSION
Our part in the national effort to combat the abuses of credit unions that have exceeded their powers under the common bond concept continues. I urge every member bank and your employees to contact your congressman through the NJBankers Web site via the ABA link.
Having experienced the association up close and personal during my tenure, I have gained a better appreciation of the need for bankers to stand behind the efforts of our very able staff at the association, especially in the government affairs arena. They can’t fight our battles for us alone. Each of us needs to do our part to support their efforts, whether it is providing JebPac funds, attending ABC meetings with legislators, attending other association committee meetings to establish legislative positions or contacting our legislators whenever asked to do so.
KEEPING IN TOUCH
As part of the mission I detailed at our last convention, I made clear that we would continue to provide many of the programs and services to which our members have grown accustomed. For example, members were regularly kept informed through nearly 200 bulletins regarding legislative updates, bank applications and conferencing. Other publications made available throughout the year included our quarterly magazine, New Jersey Banker, the annual Financial Institutions Directory and the annually updated State Banking and Trust Statutes. In addition to these services, our vice president and director of communications, Tim Doherty, kept the industry informed through continuously updated news on the association’s Web site, www.njbankers.com. Tim also oversees our FinCrime Program, which maintains cooperation between members and law enforcement in a joint effort to combat fraud against banks and our customers. These tools of the trade are invaluable sources of information and I urge all interested parties to take full advantage of them.
Another added value provided by the association is its educational and training arm, which offers more than 30 live programs annually, along with telephone seminars and more than 150 AIB and ABA eLearning online courses. The number of bankers enrolled in these programs increased by 200 percent over the previous year. Updated information is always available through the association’s Web site or by contacting Director of Education April Coles.
I am delighted to report that throughout this past year we welcomed a number of banks into the NJBankers family. Our new members include Citizens Community Bank, Heritage Community Bank, Highlands State Bank, Magyar Bank, Noble Community Bank, North Jersey Community Bank and Northern State Bank.
In July, our executive director of the NJBA Service Corp., Susan Bonin, retired after 20 years of service. Her successor, Jane Swanson, has assumed the role seamlessly. The Service Corp. provides all members with employee health and welfare insurance benefits. We are on the verge of expanding our services to include flood insurance determination, Oracle and anti-money laundering products. More information will be forthcoming on these new services.
The association has more than 125 endorsed, sponsored and other affiliate members, which we urge our regular bank members to give every consideration to when making decisions about products and services. Among them are new members which joined us this year, including Career Blazers, IDOM Inc., JRS Architect PC, PMI Technologies, Pulse EFT Association, and Security Management Partners. New sponsors include Access Integrated Technologies Inc., COCC, Jack Henry & Assoc., Karen I. Martino Group LLC., Oracle, StrikeForce Technologies Inc., Strunk & Assoc. L.P., and US Banking Alliance.
Also added to our affiliate family as ABA CAB endorsed vendors were UPS Overnight Delivery and Xerox.
All affiliates are listed on our Web site or in the Financial Institutions Directory for user convenience. It is their support of NJBankers through advertising and event sponsorships that help to defray many of the costs of running association events.
The association has been involved in numerous other activities which have put forth much good will on behalf of the industry. In the fall, we entertained a delegation of Japanese bankers who visited the association’s headquarters in Princeton to learn more about how banking was conducted in New Jersey. It was a particularly fascinating experience as it was the first time that I ever worked through a Japanese interpreter.
Another worthwhile venture experienced this past year is our continued support for the New Jersey Financial Literacy Network (NJFLAN) in cooperation with the New Jersey Division of Banking. President Cameron attended and spoke before the New Jersey Community Faith Based Groups Convention in Atlantic City advocating for financial literacy and joined Chris Van Der Stad of New Millennium Bank for their grand opening of a financial literacy center the bank sponsors at Middlesex County College (see Bank Shots on page 38.) Banks are encouraged to sponsor such centers throughout the state. Financial literacy is a subject that the Corzine administration takes very seriously and has indicated that it plans to focus on after the budget is adopted.
As part of our ongoing mission, President Cameron will continue CEO group meetings and private bank visits throughout the state. As with any mission, two-way communication is essential. It is important that bank leaders attend such meetings in order to be alerted to the latest developments affecting the industry and to be updated on the products and services available through the association. The association, on the other hand, needs to know what it can do to bring even more value to the members. Such feedback is essential to maintaining a viable organization.
Now that my term has come to an end, I can say that the mission has been completed. When I first embarked on this journey as your chairman, I never envisioned how involved I would become. Having had the experience, I now have a greater appreciation for what our staff achieves behind the scenes. It’s more than I ever imagined.
I also believe that the association is much stronger and more viable today than when we started in New Orleans a year ago. We explored certain possibilities, and some came to fruition, while some did not. In the process, I gained a much clearer understanding of the association and the value it provides to each member.
In closing, I wish to extend my best to incoming Chairman Mike Quick, who I know will do a great job for the association. I am proud to have been your voice on many issues that affect our industry, and I’m grateful to have made the journey with everyone who had a share in making it possible. Mission accomplished!
Theodore D. Bessler is president and chief executive officer of Shore Community Bank, Toms River.