The banking industry is transitioning “from old customer habits to new customer needs,” American Bankers Association Chairman Elizabeth (Betsy) A. Duke said in a speech to the ABA's National Agricultural Bankers Conference.

“You probably know a lot of people who think that banks are steady, dull and even a little behind the times,” said Duke, executive vice president of SouthTrust Bank in Atlanta. “But I know that's no longer true. Today's financial services marketplace requires many of our members to think and act globally.”

More than 500 bankers attended this year's conference, which addressed issues such as government-sponsored enterprises, the future of rural community banking, women in banking and the rising prices of farmland and input costs. Speakers also are focusing on one of the banking industry's most pressing topics, the tax-exempt status of credit unions, which have nearly $660 million in agricultural business loans as of June 2004.

Last year, ABA launched Operation Credit Unions, “a long-term, nation-wide commitment to leveling the playing field with credit unions,” Duke said. “It's about taxes. It's about Community Reinvestment Act obligations. It's about regulatory equalization. It's about education, communication and plain hard work. The importance of this national credit union fight can't be overstated.”

Duke also explored ABA's positions on regulatory reform, privacy, community development, the Farm Credit System and reform of government-sponsored entities. She noted that as the banking industry's leading trade association, the ABA, has many resources that can help bankers deal with these and other issues to help their banks and their customers.

“We'll make sure that our small towns, our rural communities and yes, the families that live in them and the businesses that support them, can grow and prosper with us,” said Duke. “And as we accomplish this — just by going about our usual business — we won't just be ‘sowing the seeds of change” — we'll be helping our customers to change their lives and realize their dreams.”