A celebration of holding companies

The Bank Holding Company Association was formed in fall of 1981, four years prior to the start of my career as a banking industry journalist. I remember covering some of those BHCA seminars in the 1980s when the farm crisis and the S&L mess were raging. The seminars, often conducted at the old Sofitel Hotel in Bloomington, Minn., featured regulators who took questions from the likes of Frank Farrar, the former South Dakota governor-turned-banker who knew how to put a regulator on the spot. I learned a lot from Farrar (who passed away not long ago), and others, including the BHCA’s first president, Bob Barsness of Prior Lake, Minn.

Bill Lester was the executive administrator of the BHCA during the 1980s, followed by George Howes and Dennie Emmans. Eleven years ago, the BHCA board of directors hired NFR Communications to manage the association and I have been serving as BHCA Managing Director ever since. Next month, the association will commemorate its 40th anniversary with a dinner on Oct. 2 at the JW Marriott Hotel-Mall of America. (It’s actually the 41st anniversary, but the pandemic prevented timely commemoration of the 40th.)

While many industries have holding companies, they play an outsized role in the banking ecosystem, essentially opening up an important window to additional capital. They also help banks serve more customers by making it possible for organizations to offer services that may be restricted by deposit insurance rules or other peculiarities of a bank charter. Before the advent of branching, the holding company was a good way to gain efficiencies by spreading backroom processing costs across several banks. Today, multi-bank holding companies are less prevalent, but there are still some 200 of them, or a little more than 5 percent of the nation’s 3,650 holding companies. 

I am grateful to the bankers who formed the BHCA and have made it one of the most vibrant banker associations in the country. People like Steven Kirchner of Richfield, Minn., did incredible work to build the BHCA membership in the 1990s. Steven Wilcox of Grand Rapids, Minn., served consecutive terms as BHCA president (2009-10) and supported me when I proposed the NFR Communications management option. And all of the directors I have been privileged to work with during the last decade have offered insightful ideas for producing relevant seminars. I feel like I have grown up with the BHCA, and I am very grateful for all the people I have come to know through this unique and dynamic group.