FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Retiring ICBA Chief Executive Kenneth A. Guenther Gives Parting Advice: Keep Eyes on Washington
San Diego, Calif. (March 16, 2004) - Offering lessons learned during a 40-year career in Washington government and politics, Kenneth A. Guenther, the retiring president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, today called on community bankers to remain continually alert to the actions of national policymakers.
"As I look over this great audience of community bankers — the backbone of our diversified financial system — a bulwark of our American democracy — I experience a recurring fantasy, that we have to look more towards reality," said Guenther, during his last formal ICBA speech after serving the nation's community banks for a quarter century."
"On issue after issue, starting with the unconscionable regulatory burden that you face every day — let your individual voices be heard louder and much more frequently," he said. "Your individual and institutional voices do stretch from sea to shining sea — and they have and can continue to make a difference."
Guenther outlined key proposals in Washington that, depending on their final outcomes, could have a dramatic impact on the future of all community banks. He cited current legislation to create a new safety and soundness regulator of the housing government-sponsored, legislation that would allow commercial firms to breach the longstanding separation of banking and commerce, and legislation to preserve the value of federal deposit insurance.
Guenther likened Washington policymaking to a fish tank of predators, where enemies can gather and strike quickly without warning. "Most of the time they swim around peacefully — but every now and then they attack and devour another fish before resuming their outwardly peaceful behavior."
"We have to watch this in Washington," he said. "Sometimes they go after fish that are important to us — like calling federal deposit insurance a subsidy that should be allowed wither away."
Guenther gave his final address on behalf of ICBA during a general session assembly of the trade association's annual National Convention and Techworld in San Diego, which has drawn more than 3,000 people.
Guenther joined the ICBA as a chief lobbyist in 1979 and became president and CEO in 1982. Under his leadership he elevated the national political effectiveness of the ICBA while diversifying its members' product and service programs. Despite significant industry consolidation, ICBA has remained the nation's largest banking trade association with the most member institutions.
Guenther's strong political leadership at the ICBA over 25 years has helped further many important national public policies — including a strong federal deposit insurance system and a prohibition against mixing banking and commerce — that uphold a diversified U.S. banking system that remains the envy of the world. Starting in the late 1980s, the ICBA developed a subsidiary structure to maintain community banks' access to essential products and services. Today ICBA operates six service corporations and operates a special limited-purpose credit card bank.
In his parting remarks, Guenther also thanked the support he received from his family, including his wife Lilly, and former ICBA presidents and chairman with which he has served at the ICBA. "My representing all you all couldn't have been more special," he said. "It has been much more than a job. It has been a cause and a sustaining cause."