Association Spotlight

Association Spotlight: Western Independent Bankers

By Association Adviser staff • November 5, 2012

By Association Adviser staff

As the economy and credit markets continue to struggle to get out of first gear, the term “bank” is considered a four-letter word closely associated with country's economic woes.

Yet, below the surface, there are thousands of local and regional lending institutions–not covered by the “too big to fail” safety net–who are quietly thriving and maintaining close ties to their respective communities and small businesses. It's not often that a trade association has to distance itself from its broader industry, but San Francisco-based Western Independent Bankers seems to have found ways to do so and still champion the cause of banking.

We're different from state and national banking associations in that we don't do advocacy and we don't lobby in Washington on behalf of our members, said Krista Gulbransen, Vice President of Marketing & Membership. “We're all about educating our members and facilitating a peer-to-peer dialogue through our conferences, magazine, website and eNewsletters.”

WIB's iBankLocal campaign has also been very well received. “The timing was right,” said Gulbransen. “We know people are fed up with the big banks. We don't want them to give up on banks. We want them to explore the advantages that a smaller bank's personal relationship and close ties to the community can offer.”

Gulbransen said WIB also wants to help its members educate the small business community that whomever your banker is–they don't have the golden handcuffs on you. Businesses and consumers should be free to change banks with as little pain and suffering as possible, whenever they feel that they're not getting the service or attention they deserve. It's all about empowerment.

A typical WIB member has about 200 employees, 156 branches and less than $1 billion in assets. WIB, which represents 220 member banks and 160 associate supplier members in the 11 western states, has seen its membership base decline somewhat due to consolidation, but its associate (vendor) membership base–primarily systems and security providers–has held steady, as has its conference sponsorships and magazine ad pages. And despite the lackluster economy and consolidation in its industry, WIB recently expanded its roster of ad-supported eNewsletters to five, with the addition of CFO & Finance.

Western Independent Banker (the association's 5,000 circulation bi-monthly) provides the big picture air coverage and trend stories, said Gulbransen, while niche conferences and niche newsletters address issues to specific sub-segments of the membership base. WIB is a relatively small organization, but its arsenal of communication vehicles enables it to tailor content specifically for banking directors, HR and training execs, lending and credit officers and technology and security professionals.

So is social networking next on WIB's communication plans? Not in the immediate future, said Gulbransen, considering the mature age of WIB's average member and the conservative nature of what its covers. “However, if members start clamoring for it, we'll certainly find ways to deliver it.” Most likely, social media would be in the form of blogs and LinkedIn and less likely to be in the form of Facebook or Twitter.

Naylor, which provides ad sales and design expertise, is one of the few outside vendors WIB works with. Everything else, including editorial, is maintained in-house and that allows WIB to cross-pollinate stories and educational initiatives easily between its magazine, eNewsletters, Web site and conference tracks. The Naylor partnership allows WIB to focus on what it does best and the vendor community seems to appreciate the tightly focused niche audiences that while not large, by industry standards, are made up primarily of senior purchase influencers.

“Again, we're all about education and training,” said Gulbransen. “Throughout all our communication channels, we don't try to control or dictate the dialogue with members. We just want to set up an environment that facilitates a healthy dialogue about the issues most important to community bankers and let them talk to us (and each other) as easily as possible. In our case, the members are leading the association, not the reverse.”

If Gulbransen had any advice for the overall association profession, it would be to do a better job of listening to members and finding out what their marketplace really wants. That means spending more time talking with your own members and not letting the media or technology shape the dialogue. “That's not how it should be.”

As banks of all sizes continue to consolidate, we know we're up against a membership growth challenge, said Gulbransen. “We're being a lot more collaborative with like-minded organizations such as the Independent Community Bankers Association and state banking associations to share resources, best practices and information that benefits our respective members.”

“Collaboration and Communication in an Age of Consolidation.” That's your headline, if you need one, joked Gulbransen. Thanks, Kristen. We can take that one to the bank.

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