Former lawmaker leads IBA, embraces industry’s ‘virtual’ reality

Randy Hultgren

Editor’s Note: On Feb. 19, the Illinois Bankers Association announced that Randy Hultgren would be its next president and CEO. Hultgren, who served as a U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 14th congressional district from 2011 to 2019, plunged into the depths of IBA’s coronavirus response, working alongside retiring IBA President and CEO Linda Koch. Hultgren speaks to his unexpectedly eventful first months on the job.


Q. What does the transition from politician to association president look like?

Randy Hultgren: Well, I really had two different career tracks. In my private career, I’m an attorney who got interested in finance while working for Performance Trust, a bond firm in Chicago. The main focus was advising smaller and medium sized banks on their bond portfolios. 

In my public sector career, I spent 24 years as an elected official starting pretty much right after I graduated from law school. I served as a state representative for eight years and state senator for four years, and it was during that time that I really got connected with the Illinois Bankers [Association] and became friends with Linda Koch. I served on financial institutions committees in both the [Illinois] House and Senate and worked very closely with the IBA on those committees.

Q. How was starting a new job in the middle of a global pandemic?

R.H.: Not anything like I expected, and that’s an understatement. The initial weeks were held completely through Zoom meetings and conference calls and emails. I had to shadow Linda at her job completely virtually. And I don’t think we will completely go back to the way things were before. I think things will be different. So my hope is through this transition time that we’re able to learn, we’re able to take some good things and use them. Certain people just really enjoy working from home, and we’re probably going to need to be a little more flexible going forward. 

It was a great learning experience and an affirmation of how excited I am to be a part of this team, but also a reaffirmation of the importance of an active, engaged, effective, nimble banking association in Illinois.

Q. What did the PPP rollout look like in Illinois?

R.H.: It was frustrating how slow it was to get answers. Bankers had a lot of concern, a lot of fear, a lot of frustration with stops and delays and the challenges of being able to get access to E-Tran. There are still a lot of questions around how the forgiveness part of this will work.

And now we’re also handling the best way to re-open branches. Bankers want to make sure the bank is safe, make sure the bank employees are safe, but also make sure that their customers are safe. Even with our meetings and educational events, we’re trying to find ways to help those who are maybe more vulnerable or don’t feel comfortable attending in-person events just yet. I think it’s going to be important to communicate through that and ultimately make sure that we’re doing what we need to do — which is serving our members — how that works best.

Q. What was that virtual convention like?

R.H.: I think even just for myself, two months ago, I would have been very wary of attending a virtual conference. We started with so many challenges: How to handle presentations, what to do to honor Linda as she was retiring, how to handle the chairman’s transition, and even just what platform to use. But the response to our virtual meeting was incredible; we had something like triple the normal attendees, including a lot more younger and mid-career bankers. It was more successful financially than our regular sessions although we had more production costs.

We changed the way we did registrations, so one bank could sign up and bring as many people as they wanted. We also had people from other state associations attending to see how we were running our virtual conference. We had some live presentations but also pre-recorded a lot of stuff, but our presenters were also hanging out in the chat function to answer peoples’ questions. Everything but our regulation and compliance session was recorded and is available to view. We were able to honor Linda through the creation of a scholarship fund named after her for college students interested in banking, and she was really moved and touched by that.