No check cashing at this bank

Saturday, August 13th 2005, 5:39 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The outside of The Bankers Bank building offers little evidence of the business inside. That's by design. That's because you can't cash a check at The Bankers Bank, a cooperative institution owned by and created for Oklahoma's community banks. That's also by design.

``At our previous building we had a sign, and other tenants would try to open checking accounts because it was so convenient,'' said Don Abernathy Jr., president and chief executive officer of The Bankers Bank.

The Bankers Bank in Oklahoma City serves as a correspondent to community banks, providing help with overnight investments, loan participation, credit card services and regulatory compliance, among other things.

The bank's core business is taking deposits from scores of banks across the state, Abernathy said. The Bankers Bank also places millions of dollars in overnight investments for banks that have excess cash at the end of each day.

``The way the economy works anymore, you can't let funds sit idly,'' he said. ``On any given day we will probably invest between $200 million and $300 million to get them some interest income on those excess funds.''

More than 200 Oklahoma banks do some business with The Bankers Bank, which gives the company a market penetration of about 80 percent, Abernathy said. There are 272 FDIC-insured institutions in the state.

The business, which employs about 40 at the bank and three banking-related subsidiaries, was started in 1985 by community bankers. That came in the midst of a state banking crisis, when scores of banks failed in the wake of collapsing energy and real estate prices.

At that time, most smaller state banks typically used some of the state's biggest banks to handle their correspondence banking services, but Liberty Bank and First National Bank had their own problems, Abernathy said.

``There was some question as to viability of those banks and where exactly their attentions were going to be,'' he said. ``A group of community bankers got together and formed The Bankers Bank for an independent source of those types of services.''

Another selling point for The Bankers Bank is the fact that it cannot compete with the banks it serves, Abernathy said. A community bank that needs to sell participation in a loan that exceeds its lending capacity may find that a large commercial bank will pitch in, and then steal the customer the next time he needs a large loan.

That won't happen with a bankers bank, which cannot serve retail customers. There are 20 such banks in the country. The first was formed in 1975 in Minnesota, and most are in the Great Plains and Midwest where community banks are more prevalent.

Although the business has aspects of a cooperative _ the shareholders include 64 state banks _ it is designed to make a profit.

Just don't come looking for a car loan.

``When you come in there's no lobby, there's no tellers, there's no vault,'' Abernathy said. ``We don't have any cash on premise. We're a very different type of bank.''