Editor’s note: Amber Van Til became the first woman to lead the Indiana Bankers Association when she took over as president from S. Joe DeHaven, who retired Dec. 31, in addition to her role as IBA CEO. She joined the association in 2002 as a lobbyist and has served as senior vice president-government relations and as executive vice president.
Van Til recently sat down with MOPIK News editor Mara Gawarecki to discuss her transition from lobbyist to president and CEO, her renewed hope for deregulation and her lifelong passion for banking advocacy.
Q: Tell me a little about how you got into banking advocacy.
AVT: I was hired at the Community Bankers Association of Indiana right out of law school as a lobbyist. It seemed like the perfect match for me: I loved to advocate, I was very passionate about banking and I loved politics, so it was the right combination of my skillsets. I worked at CBAI until the merger and have progressed through the ranks since then.
Coincidentally, I am the daughter of two bankers. My father is the president and CEO of Home Bank in Martinsville, about a $275 million thrift. He’s also the vice chairman of the FHLB Indianapolis board and sits on an advisory group for the OCC. Like me, he has a little bit of the political bug and likes to engage in advocacy and giving feedback to regulators.
My mom has long since retired, but she was a regional vice president with, at the time, First National Bank & Trust in Kokomo, which is now BMO Harris. When I went to law school, I joked that I would get into anything but banking. Now we can have a bit of ribbing at the dinner table about how I’ve essentially dedicated my professional life to the banking industry.
Q: What are some of the new projects you’re working on?
AVT: We’ve done a major redesign of the Hoosier Banker magazine. It’s been about a decade since the merger and it was about time to freshen it up. We are moving from 12 issues each year to six issues each year, but we have beefed up each issue because we know how much value members put on it. In a world where we’re in a 24-hour news cycle, we’re trying to put more focus on our e-communications, whether that’s Twitter, email or what have you. We can get news to our members in a more timely fashion if our communications department is able to focus on those channels.
We’re doing this with an eye to the next generation of bankers, who are far more focused on those kinds of communications. We’re trying to be proactive as an association to reach out to colleges and students to get them more interested in banking as a career.
We’re getting ready to do a pretty major relocation of our main office, and we’ve undertaken a fairly significant professional development program with our staff. The message is the board wants to invest in our employees so we can go from good to great. We have an awesome staff, and we’re very well-balanced, but you can’t reach the pinnacle without learning to work together as well as you can.
Q: You’re the first woman to lead IBA, and the association also has its first female chair this year.
AVT: We had a terrific opportunity with the initial edition of the redesigned Hoosier Banker, because we have four female leaders, and we were able to put them on the cover: [IBA Chair] Annette Russell; Cindy Konich, president and CEO of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis; Kristin Marcuccilli, who’s in her second year of leading our future leadership division, and myself. Certainly in our industry we struggle with diversity so this was a neat opportunity to highlight how we’re conquering that. We’re implementing a woman’s conference starting in November. We want to focus on that diversity and how women can grow in the banking industry. It will be great for women to meet other women they can form mentor/mentee relationships with because women have such a unique set of experiences and skills.
It was the flexibility that Joe and IBA afforded me that made me never seriously consider a career move because I was able to do something I was passionate about at a high level but also be there for my children. I fully intend to be open to those opportunities for our employees and have encouraging conversations with our bankers about how they can provide life balance for their employees, too.
Q: What are areas of challenge and opportunity for Indiana banks?
AVT: I just got back from our Washington, D.C. trip, where we visited with our senators and representatives, and we’re pretty excited about what we think is the best opportunity for reg reform in quite a while. I don’t think we even had the possibility in our mind before November, and there’s certainly been a mental correction in how we view the future.
Our primary focus is thoughtful and balanced deregulation and once that happens, it’s going to bring innovation to our industry. It’s going to mean differences in e-banking, it’s going to change how we address the generations and the different ways they want to be banked. We’re looking forward to that, being able to get back into the pure business of banking when the government loosens its grip so the experts – who are the bankers not the government – can get back to doing what they do best, serving their communities.