February 10, 2003

As chairman-elect of the American Bankers Association, C. Kendric Fergeson brings small-town values to a big-time organization. Case in point: before taking the reins of the ABA as chairman, Fergeson will spend the next year in meetings with ABA members to discover pressing concerns and goals.

Fergeson's involvement with the ABA stretches back to the mid-1970s, and includes experience as the chairman of the community bank committee, of the ABA's minority lending arm, and of the government relations committee.

Fergeson also chairs NBC, a federally-chartered bank in Oklahoma. Since joining the $250 million bank in 1986, Fergeson has presided over NBC's expansion to Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and rural and agricultural regions across the state.

Fergeson spoke with BS&T senior editor Ivan Schneider about his perspective on prominent legislative initiatives, and his intentions for the chairmanship of the ABA.

BS&T: Does it take a lot of behind-the-scenes activity to get ABA members on the same page on regulatory issues?

FERGESON: Not necessarily behind-the-scenes, but actually in the same room. That's sometimes really difficult. Bankers are like other people, in that they tend to migrate towards people of similar backgrounds and similar interests. Getting everybody in the same room to at least talk about it is a unique thing about the ABA.

When I look around our boardroom, we have banks as tiny as a $50 million dollar bank or as large as Wachovia, which is amazing. We all have similar interests, but sometimes small banks have a unique perspective, like on subchapter S taxation or multi-state legislation. Sometimes those groups have interests that don't really affect the other, but if we can get them all pulling together, they're a very powerful force.

BS&T: How do you view the Check 21 Act? Does that have equal importance to smaller banks?

FERGESON: Again, it's one of those things that cuts all the way across the industry because we all deal with checks. Someone that offers check clearing for other banks, like a correspondent bank, would have unique interests because they're doing a service. Where my bank, which uses the Fed or uses a correspondent bank, has a little different perspective. But when it affects our customers, we all have the same interest.

BS&T: How do smaller banks prepare for something like Check 21?

FERGESON: You'd make sure your data processing's capable. If you're outsourcing the back room of the bank, you make sure your provider is up and running at full speed. In our bank, we outsource a lot of the back room. Bisys runs our data processing.

BS&T: What's your take on the USA PATRIOT Act?

FERGESON: It's going to affect all of us, too. The industry's response is, we're all for doing our part. We want to do everything we can to ensure that the bad guys get caught and that they're not using or abusing the banking system to further their causes. The other side of that is to make sure that our customers' identities are protected, and that their information is secure and protected.

The ABA has just endorsed a product from LexisNexis ( see What's News) that will allow us, when we open an account with somebody, to make sure that they are who they say they are. This is going to be a big help, especially for a rural bank like ours. You know 90 percent of the people and you trust 100 percent of them. But you want to make sure that that person you don't know is who they say they are.

We all do it anyway. This is just something that will make it more systematic, where we're doing it in the same way.

BS&T: In what other initiatives are you involved?

FERGESON: I live in a little town of about 25,000, and it's 150 miles to town-Oklahoma City. A lot of customers remember the Depression, and I think a bump up in FDIC coverage would give them some benefit. At the same time, I always try to tell them that the bank's capital is good, and we've been here a long time and we'll still be here a long time for them. We could get by without FDIC reform, but it'd be one of those nice things to have.

One of the things that really concerns me as a citizen is integrity in business, and especially in banking, with all the bad press that some of the major corporations have gotten in the last year or two. It's devastating to me, and it's hard to believe that there are those kinds of people running major corporations.

What I will try to do, at least in my year, is emphasize that there are thousands and thousands of good people running banks across America, and all of the good things they do for their communities, the honorable things they do. I'm going to try to put an emphasis on ethics in banking.