Magazine article American Banker

Turning Community Relations Programs into 'Business Tools': Philadelphia Speakers Warn That Good Image Is Essential for Survival in Era of Deregulation and Increased Competition

Magazine article American Banker

Turning Community Relations Programs into 'Business Tools': Philadelphia Speakers Warn That Good Image Is Essential for Survival in Era of Deregulation and Increased Competition

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA -- Deregulation, interstate banking, and new competition will give new urgency and new meaning to banks' community relations programs.

That was the message to about 250 bankers and community-group leaders at the third annual Community Affairs Conference of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia from Raymond Hoewing, vice president and staff director of the Public Affaiars Council. The theme was underlined by other speakers at the recent conference.

The council is a nonprofit, Washington-based organization of community affairs executives of leading U.S. businesses.

In his talk, and in an interview afterward, Mr. Hoewing said that banks and other newcomers to a community in the new deregulated, competitive financial services world will have to get involved in the community -- "not just as a 'good works' type of activity but also as a business tool itself."

Banks and others already established in a community, he said, will have to enhance their "images" there so that they can compete and survive.

Mr. Hoewing added, "This involvement -- informed, responsible, substantive involvement -- may no longer be an optional matter."

He likened the demands of this new environment to a "latter-day Community Reinvestment Act."

"Many CEOs," he said, "will join their already converted peers ... in recognizing that well-resourced, well-staffed, top-management-supported community relations" programs are necessary "to the immediate well-being of their local community as well as to the long-range well-being of the business itself."

Mr. Hoewing deplored the "still-prevalent perception" of a community relations post "as a low-level, image-polishing, grants-making functionary's position."

"It doesn't help ... inside the firm or outside if the only thing lower than your budget is your status in the organization," he added.

He said he sees an increasing awareness that "community relations is not some squishy, do-good activity, but a hard-nosed and demanding activity that can offer bottom-line dividends. …

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