New Man at the Helm: ABA's New Chief Has Heartland Roots, a Gold-Plated Resume, and Likes to Communicate Directly with Members. Meet Gov. Frank Keating

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Banking isn't the only financial services industry to face negative publicity about an industry practice. When Frank Keating was head of the American Council of Life Insurers, corporate-owned life insurance (COLI) became a scandal and the subject of hearings on Capitol Hill. At the time, companies were buying life insurance policies on employees without their knowledge and using the proceeds for general corporate purposes. Aside from the appearance of being sneaky, the practice also limited an employee's capacity to buy insurance. When Keating found out about COLI, it had become a political hot potato. Before going up on the Hill to face the music, Keating met with the ACLI board and discussed what they needed to do.

"I had a practice at ACLI," says Keating. "When I go up to Capitol Hill to testify, I never look at my feet. I want to be able to say, 'Congressman, Senator, we heard about this and we fixed it'."

In this instance, the ACLI board agreed to recommend three changes. It said corporate-owned life insurance is acceptable as long as 1. the insured gives his or her consent; 2. the proceeds of the policy don't go to general corporate use, but are lock-boxed and used to help defer the costs of the company's health care and pension plans; and 3. it only applies to senior-level employees.

Armed with that consensus, Keating was able to say, "problem fixed," when he went up to testify. The recommendations were passed by Congress in a bill that was signed by President Bush.

"When you're dealing with issues of potential embarrassment," he adds, "fix them in advance and then tell the chairman of the [relevant congressional] committee, 'You don't need to have a hearing, we fixed it' You always want to be on the moral high ground."

Keating plans to operate the same way at ABA, where he took over as president and CEO on Jan. 3, succeeding Edward Yingling, who retired at year-end.

"Frank is an outstanding communicator and problem solver," says ABA Chairman-elect Albert "Kell" Kelly, CEO of SpiritBank, Bristow, Okla., who has known Keating for 25 years. "He doesn't believe you should go into a situation without a solution that works."

Keating, who served two terms as Governor of Oklahoma, sees trade associations as the face of an industry, not only on Capitol Hill and in state capitals, but also to everyday people. In the case of banking, Keating believes that while every industry has issues that need to be addressed, no one should be embarrassed to be a banker. "We are a white-hat industry," he says. "We represent the dreams and aspirations of ordinary Americans."

Challenged at The Yard

Though most of his career has been spent in public service, Frank Keating has a strong personal connection to the banking industry. He served on the board of a savings bank, his father was a bank director, and his twin brother, Dan, was president and CEO of a community bank in Tulsa for more than 20 years. Further, Keating's grandfather owned Salem National Bank in southern Illinois and served as Illinois State Treasurer. Keating recounts that in the 1930s, his grandfather was concerned that the House Banking Committee didn't have a banker on it, so he ran for Congress as an at-large member and was elected. After serving one term, he felt he had done his duty and returned to banking.

Frank Keating has a similar streak of citizenship in him, except that in his case his public service lasted a bit longer. As noted in the article in last month's "Bank Notes," Keating has served variously as an FBI agent; an assistant district attorney in Tulsa; a representative and senator in the Oklahoma legislature; a U.S. attorney for northern Oklahoma; assistant secretary of the Treasury and associate attorney general in the Reagan Administration (where he supervised most of the federal law enforcement establishment); general counsel and acting deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the first Bush Administration; and governor of Oklahoma from 1995 to 2002. …