Community bankers celebrate political shift

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Community bankers are still getting used to the new normal, Chris Williston says, albeit with a collective grin since Election Day: “The industry woke up on that Wednesday in November to an all-different reality.”

According to Williston, president and CEO of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, he (like so many others) was expecting a Hillary Clinton victory Nov. 8, but Donald Trump won the White House, bringing in an all-new set of expectations.

“And a new sense of populism,” Willison told IBAT member-bankers during the group’s 2017 Regional Meeting at Country Tavern last week, the local stop on the banking association’s 18-city ‘Tour de Texas.’

While they were anxious about the certainties of a Clinton presidency, he added, the industry advocates are glad for the possibilities of a Trump administration: “How we might be able to substantially roll-back some of the junk that’s happened over the past eight years,” burdening community bankers.

“Where do we start? Where do we become laser-focused first?”

There was a different air at this year’s regional meeting in Kilgore, drawing bankers from across East Texas, including Citizens Bank President Sammy York, an IBAT director, and Citizens National Bank President Pam Deceault. Generally optimistic, the meeting included more chatter about good changes likely coming from Washington, D.C. than past years’ laments about the consequences of politician’s poor decisions vis-a-vis banking.

The first priority of the new era, Williston said March 1, is to focus on tailored regulations for community banks, sparing them the onerous restrictions intended for ‘Too Big to Fail’ institutions.

“We want to make sure as we move forward that this mess that we’ve gotten ourselves into, where stuff that was intended for Wall Street has gotten down to Main Street,” Williston said, “we want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

IBAT Chairman Darla Rooke, of Junction National Bank, encouraged her colleagues to take advantage of the shifting paradigm in the nation’s capital.

“If it’s at all possible for everyone to have representation there in D.C., this is the year to do it,” she said.

Christopher Williston IV, IBAT executive vice president, echoed the charge.

“As we hear this drumbeat, now that we’ve navigated this post-Dodd–Frank era, it’s time to be up there.”

According to the elder Williston, regulatory relief is second on the list of IBAT’s priorities.

“Hopefully by August we’ll see some things start to cut loose in the Senate,” he said. “Hopefully we can get something bipartisan out of the Banking Committee and onto the Senate floor

“All hands on deck from a grassroots standpoint, and we can finally get something done.”

Dale Sheller of The Baker Group gave the IBAT members another financial update.

“The market’s been pretty crazy lately,” he said simply. “The markets were definitely caught off-guard by the Trump election.”

A Fed interest rate hike is likely in mid-March, Sheller noted, an 80 percent probability last week.

Meanwhile, “The markets are really trying to find direction and clarity,” he said.

According to Paul Merski of Independent Community Bankers of America, Trump’s election is a return to realism, the same principles reflected in community banking.

“Most people in the country, in most parts of the country, thought the election was going to go another way,” Merski said, anticipating more taxes, more regulations, business as usual from a second Clinton administration. A Trump presidency gets back to real-world priorities: jobs, mortgages, commercial lending. “Many of the districts around the country that Trump won are community bank-heavy. They love what you do, they like what you do.

“That’s not true of many industries. They don’t have the goodwill you’ve built up over many years.”

Merski anticipates Trump will remake virtually all of federal agencies, with less stringent rules and regulations from Republican appointees, free community banks to do what they do best.

It will be an optimistic, pro-business environment, he added, putting community bankers in a strong position moving forward.

“There will always be a place for community banks,” Rooke echoed. “We’re the lifeblood of the nation, and we need to stand up for ourselves.

“Y’all keep doing your good work, and we’ll get a little relief and things will get a lot better.”

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