Sterling Savings Bank Chairman and CEO Bill Zuppe has ducks all over his office.
They dont quack, but they do make a statement.
The yellow, plush-toy birds symbolize to the Spokane banker what he sees as an unfair competitive advantage that nonprofit, tax-exempt credit unions have over banks.
Playing off an adageif it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duckZuppe has helped develop an advertising campaign that contends credit unions offer the same services and cater to the same customers as banksand should pay the same taxes as banks.
The credit-union taxation issue is part of the community banking agenda Zuppe has promoted nationally as chairman of Americas Community Bankers, a Washington, D.C.-based national trade association of more than 1,200 member banks that together have $1.2 trillion in assets.
Zuppe, who has worked in banking for 40 years and co-founded Sterling Savings with Harold Gilkey in 1981, is in the last few months of his one-year term leading the trade group.
This has been a real job, not an honorarium, Zuppe says. On one hand, its trying. On the other hand, its rewarding.
During his tenure, he says, the organization has lobbied for a number of changes in matters that affect financial institutions.
Issues the organization is following include:
Bankruptcy reform: Americas Community Bankers is pushing for a number of bankruptcy-law changes. They include limiting the number of repeat filings, improving the bankruptcy process so that minority debtors cant hold up proceedings, and eliminating cramdownsa process through which a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge eases a debtors burden by reducing the interest rate and loan principal on debts owed to secured creditors.
Its not that anybody is against bankruptcy, Zuppe says. Its an effort to make it more efficient and effective and to eliminate some of the abuses.
A bankruptcy-reform bill that included some such changes was defeated recently in Congress after unrelated amendments were added to the bill, he says.
Consumer privacy and protection: The association supports legislation to protect bank customers from illegal and predatory practices, such as identity theft or predatory lending, but fights against regulations that would be onerous to banks, Zuppe says.
The association also is pushing to bolster consumer education about finances so that consumers become more aware of potential pitfalls. Such efforts especially would be beneficial for customers who speak English as a second language, he says.
Deposit-insurance reform: An effort is under way to combine the Bank Insurance Fund and Savings Associations Insurance Fund, the two funds administered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that protect deposits. Americas Community Bankers is supporting the proposed merger because it would create a bigger pool of money and would be financially more sound in the event of a substantial bank failure.
Another banking association had opposed that legislation, because as part of the merger, it wanted to make each account insurable for up to $130,000, an increase over the $100,000 current an account, Zuppe says. That organization since has dropped that condition and has supported the proposed consolidation, he says.
Of all these issues, the one Zuppe has chosen to champion as his top priority is what he refers to as the inequity between taxed community banks and tax-exempt, community-field-of-membership credit unions.
For years, banks and credit unions have debated the tax-exemption status granted to credit unions. The banking community contends that credit unions can offer lower rates on loans and higher interest payments on deposits because they dont pay taxes. Credit unions counter that banks have a competitive advantage, because they can raise capital through stock offerings, whereas credit unions must rely on retained earnings to grow.
Zuppe says hes participated in these kinds of debates with everybody from federal bureaucrats to a friend who heads up a large, Spokane-based credit union.
He says he expects change will occur to ease some of that alleged inequity, but it will take a while. Thats why he wanted to charge hard on this issue during his term as chairman.
If youre going on a long trip, you want to leave early, he says.
On the road
Of course, the chairmans position isnt all policy and politics. It comes with a few duties that Zuppe has been happy to take on.
One day in December, he opened for trading the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York. As part of the stock exchanges equivalent to making baseballs ceremonial first pitch, Nasdaq prominently displayed an image of Zuppe on a gigantic screen outside its building.
Let me tell you, when you see a 10-story-tall image of yourself, well, lets just say Ive lost 30 pounds since then, Zuppe says.
At that time, Americas Community Bankers and Nasdaq announced the formation of the Americas Community Bankers Nasdaq index, which provides a composite indicator that takes into account stock activity for about 450 publicly-traded community banks.
Zuppe spends about three days a week, including some weekends, traveling either to association events or to functions where hes representing the group. One week earlier this month, for example, he represented the association at events and conventions in Boston; Cape Cod, Mass.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.
Later this year, hell speak on the associations behalf at the International Banking Conference, in Japan.
Zuppe says he couldnt have taken on such a time-consuming commitment if Sterling hadnt restructured somewhat and given more responsibility to a couple of younger executives. Last fall, the bank promoted Heidi Stanley to chief operating officer and vice chairwoman at the bank, from executive vice president of corporate administration, and named her to the banks board. David P. Bobbitt has been promoted to president and chief production officer at Sterling. He previously was executive vice president of community banking.
This has allowed us to test the next generation of management of our company, he says. Theyve responded very well.
The trade association position has allowed Zuppe to bring people to Spokane who might not have visited otherwise. Representatives from Tokyothose involved in the International Banking Conference and a Japanese reportercame to spend some time with him earlier this summer. Also, the association had its summer board meeting here in June.
Zuppe says the visitors had a great time and thought well of Spokaneand all left with plush yellow ducks.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE