The Independent Spirit

Recently, I stumbled across something that I’d passed for almost 30 years on my way to our boardroom here at 1st National Bank of Scotia. We were in the midst of a renovation and that means that things that have been hanging on walls for years needed to come down and go back up. This is when I noticed the framed official credo of the ICBA (then the IBAA), and I took a moment to read it again. It blew me away.

Not only was it still relevant 40 years later, it was probably even more relevant given the current economic climate and the financial system that we live in day in and day out as community bankers.

It begins with the line, “In the principle of Independence, the most precious American heritage.” As a community banker, once I rediscovered this treasure, I needed to keep reading. “And in banking we believe in the Independent Bank, and American institution dedicated to the financial independence of its customers and community. … We know that eternal vigilance is ever the price of liberty and in union there is strength. We view with alarm trends which conflict with Independent Banking, and we pledge resistance to every such trend.”

And there you have it. I was hooked. How could I have passed by this message for decades without noticing it, let alone reflect on it? Even more astonishing—how could it really be just as appropriate now as it was when it was first hung in our community bank?

With so many winds of change and overconcentration coming at us from every direction, I can’t help but be thankful for the fact that we community bankers still stick together through thick and thin in defending one of America’s greatest treasures—the independent community bank. It’s our banks that helped build this country and the communities that line Main Streets nationwide. It’s our banks that helped so many small-business startups get their first loan to open their doors. It’s our banks that helped local families and residents buy their first home, purchase their first car, and plan for college or retirement.

It’s our independent community banks that are our nation’s legacy. It’s something no other country in this world has. Our financial system is unique. And it’s this independence through community banks that keeps our financial system strong—even through the tough economic times. We learned that most recently through the Wall Street financial crisis.

And while those winds of change seem to be coming at us strong, we as community bankers need to remember that we are stronger. We have the spirit of independence standing with us every step of the way, and that’s precisely what our country was built upon. Independent banks are part of American liberty, and we won’t let anyone take that away from us.

So when issues of government overreach, regulatory burden and too-big-to-fail come up, you better believe that we community bankers are going to fight. We’re not just fighting for our businesses; we’re fighting for the American spirit and pillar of individual economic opportunity—indeed, in our independence.

John H. Buhrmaster is president of 1st National Bank of Scotia, in Scotia, N.Y. and Chairman of ICBA

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