The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Since taking the helm of the American Bankers Association on Jan. 1, my priority has been meeting with and listening to bankers and state association executives about what’s needed to help banks succeed. I’ve logged tens of thousands of miles in service to that goal and by late June had visited with nearly 3,500 industry leaders at various state conventions and meetings.

The feedback I have received has been invaluable, and it has driven ABA activities in recent months. For example, you have told me in no uncertain terms that the industry needs to take our advocacy game to a new level to counter an increasingly organized, antagonistic and aggressive anti-bank lobby.

I would have thought that the stridency with which the public policy sector treats our industry would have lessened by now, six years after Dodd-Frank and eight years post-crisis. But in fact it has increased. This is a problem. Bank-bashing — including that which comes from within the industry — damages the entire industry’s image and feeds those who would prefer that banks be managed by Washington.

That is why ABA is pushing back — hard — in defense of banks. Among other things, we launched a targeted pro-bank image campaign aimed at Washington opinion elites. We are advertising on the radio and at Washington Nationals baseball games — which a disproportionate number of members of Congress, Hill staff, regulators, agency staff and reporters attend — as well as on social media pushing positive messages about the important role banks play in their communities. You can see some of that messaging at

We also are going all-in on our Power Up initiative, which is aimed at getting more bankers engaged in politics — from building lawmaker relationships to donating funds for races — in order to increase our success in Washington. I am grateful for the state associations’ leadership in promoting this cause. More bankers are telling us that they either know their member of Congress or are willing to get to know them. They are contributing more to BankPac and their state PACs. And they are giving to the Fund for Economic Growth. (Incidentally, if you are one who has done all three, please know that staff at ABA affectionately refer to you as a “power player.” If you haven’t but want to learn more, visit

And we are aggressively challenging cases of regulatory overreach, such as the National Credit Union Administration’s egregious member business lending rule approved earlier this year, which we believe contradicts the law, and the CFPB’s proposed rule on arbitration, which would dramatically limit the use of arbitration agreements even though data show they serve consumers better than class action lawsuits.

The feedback I’ve received in my first six months on the job also makes clear that we must be proactive in addressing broad trends that are reshaping banking. That is why two staff task forces at ABA have been studying the challenges and opportunities posed by the fintech revolution and massive demographic shifts. The groups will be recommending new ways ABA can serve the industry, with a sharp focus on how we can help community banks. More on that to come, but in the meantime rest assured that contrary to many headlines, millennials are not disenchanted with banks, and that opportunities for partnering with nonbank fintech companies abound.

These are just a few ways ABA, working closely with state bankers associations, is striving to build a more secure and competitive future for your bank. These efforts are built on banker feedback, and I hope you’ll keep that coming.

Rob Nichols is the the president and CEO of the American Bankers Association. E-mail Rob Nichols at