A Tucson community bank president has been elected chairman of the Arizona Bankers Association.

Randy Yenerich, president of Commerce Bank of Arizona, is the first Southern Arizonan to hold the association's chairmanship in 13 years.

"Randy is a veteran banker with decades of experience under his belt," said Tanya Wheeless, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Bankers Association. "He understands banking and what it means to serve the community. He is exactly who we need leading us right now as we weather these tough times."

Yenerich became chairman of the association in June. He'll hold the seat for one year.

Through his 50-year banking career, "I have tried to avoid banking politics and association memberships with a plague," Yenerich said. Wheeless asked him to join the association, then to take a seat on the board of directors.

"I started to realize some of the values the Arizona Banking Association, and associations in general, provide," Yenerich said. So he has accepted a rise in the leadership ranks, with the help of a "wonderful" staff and a supportive board of directors.

"I can provide something I've never provided to the industry, which is something I've loved."

Yenerich doesn't exaggerate the importance of his selection to lead an association often dominated by Maricopa County.

"If you've been around the state long enough, Southern Arizona is looked upon as the poor stepchild," Yenerich said. His election is "some recognition that Tucson does exist."

He won't be partial toward Southern Arizona. "I'm the chairman of all of them. But from an image standpoint, any little thing can help Tucson."

In his role, Yenerich is meeting more directly with Congressional representatives. In Washington, where he's already traveled, Yenerich is "a local commercial banker to give the views, instead of the Ivy League views. We're putting in front of people a different view than what they may have heard."

The issues are many, and complex.

"It's steady as she goes in a lot of ways in this environment," Yenerich said. "I will continue the advocacy of the commercial banking industry."

The industry "has never been a great marketer of what they do, what benefits they provide," he said. "People don't realize the financial contributions, the donations, the support over a period of years to a community. They don't realize the number of services we provide to the government, basically for nothing.

"We're not all bad guys," Yenerich said.

The federal government is not bailing out his bank.

"Fortunately, we didn't need the money from the government," he said. "This public persona needs to be adjusted. We've been raked over the coals, by the national news media, when it really isn't justified."

Chuck Luhtala, president of Canyon Community Bank, is on the state association's board of directors.

Crisis was a 'downhill snowball'

This country's autumn 2008 banking "debacle" did not start in the community banking industry, Commerce Bank of Arizona president Randy Yenerich asserts.

Yenerich, newly elected chairman of the Arizona Bankers Association's board of directors, recognizes the word "banking" has become "all-encompassing," to include national, regional and community banks as well as commercial and investment banks, and mortgage companies that became involved in sub-prime lending.

"The community banking industry, to any great degree, did not originate these types of loans," Yenerich said.

The banking industry did purchase securities rated AAA, which in fact were not AAA. As notes came due, and went unpaid, the system began to crumble.

"It's so complicated that I can't explain it to you," Yenerich said. "It was a snowball going downhill," resulting in "a major, major crisis. It started with a lack of control and regulation on mortgage companies and investment banks." And it's resulted in more regulations for banks that didn't start the problem, he believes.

"The community banking industry, in 99 percent of situations, is very well regulated, very well controlled," Yenerich said.

"Every banker will tell you, I did not ever realize how little regulation there was in the mortgage industry," he said. Yenerich encourages greater oversight.

Everyone in the industry, and beyond, is paying the price. Yenerich's bank, with $200 million in deposits, paid $187,000 in the second quarter for Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., insurance. "That's more in the second quarter than we did all last year," he said. FDIC needs the money. "The banking industry pays for the failed banks."

Banking ups and downs are part of a "cycle," Yenerich said.

"In the '80s, in the Southwest, it was almost an identical situation. Weak financial institutions will ultimately wash themselves out. If they have no liquidity problem, banks will earn their way out of bad loans. We could see still significant bank failures in the next year. In the long term, new shoots will shoot up."

Yenerich's career goes back 50 years

Randy Yenerich recently celebrated 50 years in the banking industry. On June 12, 1959, he began working as a 16-year-old messenger at the Mid-City National Bank of Chicago.

After years as a bank president in the Midwest, Yenerich woke one morning and decided to retire.

"I'd just wore out," he said.

He had a home in Tucson, and moved to the community to play golf.

"It became a sabbatical," he said. "I ended up failing retirement." He was bored. And he paid ever-greater attention to Tucson's banking business.

"I saw limited community banking," Yenerich said. When acquaintances asked him to help start a bank, he saw the opportunity.

Commerce Bank of Arizona opened in 2002. Today, it has $200 million in deposits and five branches, three in greater Tucson including one at Ina and La Cholla, one in Green Valley and one in Tubac. Yenerich has his office at the Broadway location.

Community banks are involved in small business and real estate lending. "We have a different emphasis" than large-scale, big-project national and regional banks.

"If you want to be known, if you don't want to stand in line, if you want personalized service," a community bank is the place to be.

"A lot of people don't wish to have that kind of service," Yenerich recognizes. "They want to be anonymous. Young people have much different attitudes toward banks.

"We are unique, but we have a heck of a lot of fun. You can't be a banker if you don't like people," customers and employees alike.

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