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In-Depth: Re-establishing Connections: With Checks Gone, Fed Staff Looks To Rekindle Frequent Contact


Robert A. Hopkins
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Not long ago, Federal Reserve banks and branches had what seemed like continuous contact with financial institutions across the country. This was, in large part, attributable to involvement in near round-the-clock processing of check payments for financial institutions.

With paper check-processing consolidated down to a few offices, we realized that we missed the everyday, valuable interaction that we once enjoyed with bankers, and we could use a fresh start. Last year, my colleagues and I—Martha Perine Beard and Maria Hampton, respectively the senior branch executives of the Memphis and Louisville branches—started a new program called Financial Institution Touch (FI Touch), through which we systematically and routinely meet with officials from Eighth District financial institutions to rekindle that interaction.

We have many reasons for doing this. (See below: What Is the FI Touch?) In addition to reconnecting with bankers, we're also assessing local economies—such information can make its way into the Fed's Beige Book and Burgundy Books reports—as well as seeking feedback on other important issues confronting financial institutions and the Federal Reserve. In conjunction with these visits, we assess community needs and identify possible opportunities to provide Bank resources to the financial institutions and their communities.

Not surprisingly, my colleagues and I are finding the anecdotal economic information provided by bankers thoughtful and helpful. Because bankers and community leaders have unique perspectives on their local economic conditions and community needs, our discussions enable us to more effectively provide suggested assistance.

For example, one banker indicated that he had recently attended a Fed forum where an economist had presented current research and believed a similar program in his community would be beneficial. Another banker inquired about a recent regulatory issue confronting community banks and another about steps required to become a state member bank.

Another example: Steve Trusty, president of Simmons Bank of Hot Springs, Ark., told me recently, "I appreciate the opportunity to visit with Federal Reserve officials to share both the economic successes and challenges of the community we serve. I also find it beneficial to provide perspectives on policy debates occurring in Washington, D.C., and across the country that likely will have an impact on large financial institutions and community banks like ours."

The bankers that my colleagues and I have met with so far have put us in touch with local school administrators, where we shared economic and personal finance curricula and teacher training programs that the St. Louis Fed produces. Bankers learned about the Fed and subsequently partnered with us in April (national Personal Finance Month) to teach local primary school children how to save.

We've also shared information and technical assistance with communities that historically have not functioned well so that we can help improve community development finance, asset building, and neighborhood stabilization and revitalization. Bankers have partnered with us to consider better ways to improve credit access for low- and moderate-income communities.

Because there are approximately 700 banks located in parts of seven states, St. Louis Fed officials have an ongoing challenge to personally maintain existing relationships, as well as build new ones, with bankers across the Eighth District. Through our public programs, supervision activities, financial services account executives and, now, our FI Touch program, we intend to meet the challenge. We can serve you better by understanding the unique economic conditions and needs of your communities.

For more information on St. Louis Fed banking and other programs, see

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Robert Hopkins is the senior branch executive of the St. Louis Fed's Little Rock Branch.