Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Robert E. Harris / Efforts on Interstate Banking, State Branch Legislation Illustrate Harris's Goal to Act Quickly on Major Trends

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Robert E. Harris / Efforts on Interstate Banking, State Branch Legislation Illustrate Harris's Goal to Act Quickly on Major Trends

Article excerpt

In these days of record bank failures and oil prices wreaking havoc with bank loan portfolios, plus increased comp etition from non-bank companies such as Sears, Roebuck and Co. - some would say only a glutton for punishment would want his job.

Robert E. Harris, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Bankers Association, doesn't look at it that way.

"In this job, you have a major influence and play a major role in helping to shape changes," he said. "I thrive on that aspect of the job."

If Harris's success in his position with the bankers association can be measured in industry firsts, there are several to his credit.

- Late in April, Harris approached state legislators with a draft bill that would provide for emergency interstate acquisition of failed or failing banks. The bill had been introduced, passed, and signed by Governor George Nigh by May 7.

Not bad for an industry association that led the fight against interstate banking at the national level just eight months ago - and not a bit too soon, either.

With the failure Thursday of the First National Bank and Trust Co. of Norman, out-of-state bidders were allowed at an informational meeting held at the Oklahoma State Banking Department for the first time in state history.

- With much work by the association behind the scenes, a multibank holding company and branching law was passed by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1983. At the time, it was considered a giant stepin state banking structure.

- The association was the first to develop annual media forums, where an effort is made to give news reporters the tools to report financial news accurately. Harris said the idea was born from"distasteful things" which occurred with the failure of Oklahoma City's Penn Square Bank in 1982.

- BancInsure Inc., a captive risk insurer for banks in Oklahoma and five other states, opened in January. The company was formed in an effort to stem the cost and difficulty banks faced in obtaining blanket bond and special multiperil insurance.

At least five other groups are discussing forming captive insurance companies, but Harris proudly notes that BancInsure is the only one doing business now.

- The bankers association's COPING rating - an examiner evaluation program - will soon get under way.

Harris said the acronym stands for Communication skills, Overall banking knowledge, Professionalism, Intelligence, Noticeably knowledgable of local economic conditions, and General attitude. Examiners will be rated by banks for each category on a scale of 1 to 5. The information will be collected and put in the association's computer.

"Bankers can call when an examiner comes to the bank and get a profile before the examination starts," Harris said. "It's a way to praise competency and to criticize incompetence on the part of examiners to their supervisors."

- The Oklahoma Bankers Association leads the nation's bankers associations in the number of educational events offered to bankers in the state, Harris said. The association ran 85 banker education events during the fiscal year ended April 30, and trained over 7,000 bankers.

If you look at Harris' background, it's not hard to figure out why he has been successful in bringing 528 bankers to agreement on recent tough issues such as interstate banking, or the fine points of branch banking in Oklahoma.

Yet it's doubtful that Harris envisioned himself becoming a major spokesman for Oklahoma bankers - and the industry nationwide - when he began his career in his home state of Nebraska as a featurewriter for the Hastings Daily Tribune.

That reporting job led to a public relations position with KN-Energy, a utility company based in Hastings with operations in seven states.

When the company had an opening for a legislative lobbyist, Harris, who was already active in politics, became the natural choice to fill that job - to foresee trends in the industry and make adjustments necessary for those trends. …

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