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WBA’s Advocacy Officer program offers leadership opportunity

By Lorenzo Cruz

Leadership in your bank is about more than networking. As many bank leaders can attest, having a wide range of experience in many different areas of the bank is critical in ensuring a broad understanding of the industry as a whole.

As our industry continues to evolve, one significant area of focus for leaders continues to be government involvement. As members of the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA), banks have an opportunity to designate Advocacy Officers, or volunteers who assist in coordinating community advocacy efforts, to work alongside the WBA Government Relations Team on regulatory, legislative, and political activities that impact our industry each day.

In working with WBA staff; fellow bankers; state, local, and federal levels of government; and other state or national trade groups, WBA Advocacy Officers continue to help make life easier for bankers and accomplish the goals of the banking industry.

The typical background for this position usually includes an interest in public policy, a strong understanding of the banking industry (compliance, credit, external relations, etc.), the ability to speak for the bank regarding matters of regulatory or public policy, and a flexible schedule.

But what does an Advocacy Officer (AO) actually do and what are the rewards and advantages for the banker? Here are five opportunities for every Advocacy Officer:

1. Receive relevant, up-to-date information.

Every week, AOs receive a report detailing emerging topics, upcoming regulation, key legislative items, and inside information that will help you be at the front end of important business, banking, and economic issues in Wisconsin. In addition to weekly reports, AOs who are subscribed to the Wisconsin Banker Daily will receive timely updates on the events impacting the industry.

2. Testify before the Wisconsin Legislature or communicate with key elected officials.

This unique leadership opportunity allows AOs to speak directly to legislators and other community leaders about how the banking industry works and how legislation will impact the banking industry. Working directly with WBA staff, an AO is prepared and reinforced with information to help the banker put their best foot forward. AOs email or call elected officials about banking items to help provide information, meet in Madison at WBA’s annual Capitol Day, and host elected officials at the bank as part of “Take Your Legislator to Work Days.”

3. Recognition before your bank leadership and peers.

WBA recognizes AOs in publications and directly with bank leadership for their efforts to help the banking industry. AOs also have the opportunity to attend events that allow an individual to connect with other bankers and WBA leadership. AOs are given the contact information for every Advocacy Officer peer in Wisconsin.

4. Elect pro-banking officials.

Once per year, the AO helps coordinate fundraising activities at the bank for Wisbankpac (PAC) political action committee or the Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) conduit to help support pro-banking candidates. AOs are provided information by WBA in an Advocacy Toolkit that helps with all aspects of the event. WBA is not “D” nor “R,” but “B” for Banking!

5. Meet with leaders from other industries and represent WBA.

AOs regularly attend local and statewide events to represent Wisconsin’s banking industry. These events create an entirely new network of individuals who are leaders in other industries, such as healthcare, accounting, manufacturing, and real estate.

To learn more about the Advocacy Officer position, please visit wisbank.com/advocacyofficer or contact me.

By Lorenzo Cruz

The credit card swipe fee debate could reignite as interest rates rise and inflationary pressures persist into 2023. If the sparks fly and catch fire, retailers could reunite to advocate for interchange fee reform, which has severe negative financial consequences for banks, the electronic payments ecosystem, and consumers alike.

The Importance of Interchange Fee

During the last legislative session, a retail coalition led efforts to introduce legislation that would have prevented banks from applying interchange fees on the tax portion of a credit card transaction and would impose a $200 fine per transaction for any entity that violates the law. Similar legislation has been offered across the nation more than forty times over the last 16 years. To date, no state has enacted the legislation, nor has this model legislation made it out of any committee.

Retailers contend this change would provide some relief for tax collection and would lower their second highest expense — credit card swipe fees. Members of the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) empathize with retailers’ concerns, but there are other ways retailers could receive vendor compensation as payment for that work.

Interchange fees remain a critical revenue stream for banks of all sizes in rural and urban markets. The fees allow banks to recover the cost for fraud protection and for cybersecurity that card issuing banks provide to their customers. Retailers and consumers enjoy the credit card fee benefits of a seamless globally accepted transaction and a guaranteed payment that is secure, convenient, and affordable. Retailers also see higher volume and sales from credit card use, faster transactions, lower costs than those associated with handling checks and cash, and more sales channels.

Negative Impacts on Wisconsin

Passage of interchange fee legislation would have negative and impractical implications for the electronic payment system and consumers. Consumers would have to undergo a split tender transaction, being forced to use the credit card for the total sum of goods or services purchased in the first transaction but then would pay in cash or check for the remaining tax portion in a separate transaction. Retailers could see an increase in customer confusion and frustration as the speedy checkout line becomes a distant memory.

Currently, the electronic payment system has no way of separating out the tax piece of the transaction. Financial institutions and card networks only see the full transaction sum when approving, routing, and settling electronic payments. This design protects consumers’ privacy and allows for lightning speed transactions.

Visa’s network alone processes over $12 trillion in transactions annually. Visa has the capacity to handle over 65,000 transactions a second, however, the proposed special tax treatment change would require a major, costly overhaul of the system. The chip conversion for credit cards took over 25 years to research, test, and implement, which goes to show there is nothing simple about making changes to these networks. Wisconsin could easily become an island in the electronic payment space if the legislation passes.

With prices of gas and food increasing and talks of recession afoot, the last thing consumers would want is a legislative change that makes it potentially more difficult to use their card during these challenging times. WBA urges our retail partners and customers to pursue vendor compensation alternatives rather than tinker with the interchange fee in a harmful manner. Additionally, WBA members are encouraged to continue to educate customers and policymakers on the importance of interchange fees to banks and the communities they serve.

Last year, President Joe Biden signed a bill on June 17, 2021, to create Juneteenth National Independence Day. The new law amends 5 U.S.C. 6103(a) to add “Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19” as a specified legal public holiday. While this created a bit of a stir within the lending industry when the bill was signed so close to the date of the new holiday, banks have now had a year to prepare for its second observation.

Banks will have determined the extent to which they will observe the new federal holiday, including whether offices will remain open. As with any time a bank closes, it should consider what functions will remain available. Among other things banks should ensure they have provided adequate notice, consider cut-off times and prompt crediting of payments, access to safe deposit box operation, funds availability schedules, and any impact this might have on lending operations such as closing and rescission rights.

For example, as a result of the new law, the date of June 19 is not a business day under Regulation Z. Because June 19 is a Sunday this year, the holiday will be observed on the following Monday, June 20. For purposes of rescission under Reg Z, a “precise” business day test applies, meaning, the precise day is excluded from the definition of “business day” while the observed holiday (in this example, June 20) is a business day.

In summary, banks should consider if and how they have decided to observe Juneteenth this year and how it will affect their business functions. In addition, banks should consider the regulations with a definition of “business day” to determine how it might affect compliance considerations. Each regulation should be considered individually, as they define “business day” differently.

Triangle Background

By John Cronin

This legislative session we have seen red proposals and blue proposals that have a lot of people wondering if Wisconsin will soon be going green. No, nobody is commending the Packers for that lackluster playoff performance or proposing we replace Bucky with the Grinch. Though we see a lot of these, I’m not referencing environmentally conscious measures, either. Ranging from people tuned into government and the apolitical, people in banking and those who are not — what is one of the most common questions I get asked? When is Wisconsin going to legalize marijuana?

I’m sure people think to themselves ‘Hey this government guy ought to know,’ but it’s also a topic lots of folks are genuinely curious about, especially as versions of marijuana legalization have been adopted by numerous states across the country, including our neighbors in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. Indeed 39 states either allow for some type of marijuana consumption — either medicinal or recreational — or have removed penalties for possessing small quantities.

From the banking industry perspective, the cannabis industry represents a largely untapped market shrouded in regulatory uncertainty since marijuana technically remains a scheduled drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The SAFE Banking Act would go a long way to alleviating this issue by protecting financial institutions serving legitimate cannabis-related businesses operating in compliance with each respective state’s legal framework. Support for the SAFE Banking Act seems to grow each time it is voted on, but final Congressional approval remains elusive out in Washington, D.C.

Shifting back to Wisconsin and the question posed at the outset — the answer remains “To Be Determined,” but the conversation has shifted dramatically from where the discourse was just a few years ago. So where do things stand now?

Marijuana used to be a legislative subject broached exclusively by Democrats. For consecutive sessions, Democrats, including Governor Evers, have pitched full recreational marijuana legalization and regulation. Those attempts may be a bridge too far at the moment and haven’t gained much traction, failing to net even a committee hearing. But they have moved the needle.

Though derived from hemp, Republicans have embraced CBD therapeutics for certain medical disorders. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is open to a medical marijuana program. But most significantly, we have also seen two Republican-led legislative proposals this session. One bipartisan proposal would create uniform low civil penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, so as to prevent those individuals from being convicted of a misdemeanor or felony. In late January, a cohort of thirteen Republican legislators began seeking co-sponsors for a bill creating a medical marijuana program that tightly regulates cultivation, processing, testing, and dispensing to patients. Neither have received action this session.

Both medicinal and recreational marijuana remain illegal in Wisconsin. The 2021–22 legislative session is effectively over, and illegality will remain the status quo for now. However, as Republican aversion continues to thaw, we are bound to hear this conversation ramp up in the near future and could see movement in the 2023–24 session.