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
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
"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
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
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. …