Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bankers association goes farther out for meetings, but not ready for Bahamas yet

Five years ago, as the financial crisis was escalating, the North Carolina Bankers Association held its annual convention in the Bahamas, a place many Americans losing their homes to foreclosure would likely have been unable to afford to visit at the time.

Running June 21-25, 2008, the meeting at The Atlantis resort on Paradise Island took place three months after news that JPMorgan Chase agreed to save troubled investment bank Bear Stearns and two months before the federal government would take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“Set amidst the lush tropical splendor of the Caribbean, The Atlantis is an exhilarating adventure of thrills and discoveries!” read the association’s announcement to its members about the trip. “Interact with the sea’s most playful inhabitants. Plunge from great heights into an azure pool. Experience culinary delights surrounded by nature’s most beautiful wonders.”

It was a trip planned at least the year before, when the economy was in better shape. Since then, the association hasn’t returned to the Bahamas, opting instead to hold its conventions no more than one state away from North Carolina. For example, the group’s 2013 meeting, which is taking place this week, is being held in Hot Springs, Va., at The Homestead resort.

But in recent years, the association has been venturing farther for the trips. Last year’s was in the beach resort community of Hilton Head, S.C., and 2011’s was also at The Homestead.

It’s still no lush tropical splendor, but it's a change from 2009’s convention at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill and 2010’s at Hilton Charlotte University Place, locations that projected a more frugal tone at a time when the banking industry was under heavy public scrutiny as the economy was coming undone.

In an email Monday, Nathan Batts, counsel for the association, pointed out that his group has been focused on keeping the costs of the trips low and holding them in places that are within driving distance.

"While the economy is now doing well in many areas and showing growth, there are large parts of our state that have yet to recover," he wrote. "Like our members, the NCBA has become increasingly focused on cost efficiencies, over the past five years especially."

Registration per delegate for the 2013 trip cost $525, with prices higher if spouses attend. Rooms at The Homestead start at $340 per day for a single, according to the association's meeting packet.

Lissa Lamkin Broome, director of the Center for Banking and Finance at UNC School of Law in Chapel Hill, said the scale of the association’s trips are “sort of following the economy.” After the Bahamas trip, the association chose “much more modest and much more local” venues, she said.

The conventions are part business, part diversion. This year’s event includes banking presidents as speakers, as well as a mixology class.

Batts is not ruling out having future meetings that might require a longer drive or even a plane trip.

“We may consider travel to a location that is farther away in future years to give our members some variety, since this is the one meeting of the year that we sometimes go out of state,” he wrote in an email, “but we will do so after analysis of many factors and careful negotiation of the costs.

"We are getting back to a point of normalcy, where being out of the office for an extended period is feasible, but, even if my association chooses to travel a more extended distance in future years, we will do so only after some extensive negotiations to keep the costs down.”

So, no island paradise for now. But there's always the chance that the mixology class will teach this year's attendees how to make Bahama Mamas.