One thing that hasn’t changed at the Arizona Bankers Association since it was founded 105 years ago is its dedication as an advocate for the banking industry. The cornerstone of the association has always been advocacy of bank-related issues with elected officials, state legislators, members of Congress and regulators at the state and federal levels.
“It’s the most significant service we offer,” says Tanya Wheeless, president and CEO of the ABA. “We serve as a clearinghouse when those decision-makers are considering new legislation or regulations. We can weigh in on behalf of the industry on anything that might have an impact on banking. And we do it with a single voice. That’s why we started and that’s what we still believe in.”
The association’s Grassroots Advocacy Resource Center focuses on communicating with state and federal lawmakers and arranging meetings between bankers and local legislators and in Washington with members of the Arizona congressional delegation.
“When we need to communicate on a bill,” Wheeless says, “we provide our members with contact information. Nearly 1,000 letters from Arizona bankers were sent to our congressional delegation opposing a farm credit bill earlier this year, and we were successful. It didn’t pass.”
But the association doesn’t overdo its use of the grassroots program.
“We only pull the trigger when we need to, when it’s really an important issue,” she says.
Wheeless characterizes banking as being different from other businesses.
“They compete viciously in the market, but they all offer basically the same products and services,” she says. “Where banks set themselves apart is in customer service and convenience. Even though they are great competitors, they recognize that when it comes to laws and regulations, we’re all in it together. A law that’s bad for one bank is bad for the bank next door.”
By the same token, a good law helps all banks. For example, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill this year that requires loan officers to be licensed and to undergo continuing education. Sponsored by Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, a Chandler Republican, the measure was supported by the Bankers Association and the Arizona Mortgage Brokers Association.
“It passed in the final hours,” Wheeless says. “Mortgage brokers were largely unregulated. They had to have a license, but little could be done to revoke a license and communicate problems to others — like don’t hire this person. This law provides that they have the same oversight and training that banks have to provide. There was a time when you had people doing mortgages in Starbucks. They had passed a test, and that was all they knew about the mortgage industry.”
The bill was a good way to provide some uniformity in education and licensing requirements, regardless of who the employer is, Wheeless says.
In collaboration with the governor’s office this year, the association produced 50,000 cards containing resource information for people feeling financial pressures, Wheeless says. Printed in English and Spanish, the cards were distributed through grocery stores, nonprofits and social service agencies.