"This meeting allowed me to go to the banking side of the desk. It gave me a different perspective. I understood for the first time why I've been asked some of the questions I've been asked in the past when I've borrowed money." -Keith Morton
Being a Farm Credit board member is like being an athlete: You have to work out to stay in shape. And it helps to have a good trainer.
For many Farm Credit board members, that "workout" comes during the Director Development Program, a three-day training session geared toward keeping local Farm Credit co-op directors at the top of their game.
"It's never been more complicated to be a director serving on the board of a financial institution," says Dr. Willie Staats, a member of the Farm Credit Bank of Texas board and the chair of the bank's audit committee.
"The board of directors bears the ultimate responsibility for the organization's success or failure. The duties really haven't changed much in decades, but the environment has changed, so more is expected of directors today than ever before," Staats says.
This year, 310 directors from the Tenth Farm Credit District and the AgFirst District attended the Director Development Program, which was held in three locations: Memphis, Tenn., Orlando, Fla., and San Antonio, Texas.
Developing a Banker's Mind-Set
Many Farm Credit directors have expertise in running a farm, ranch or other business, but few have specific banking or lending experience. The Director Development Program helps to fill that gap.
"Co-ops, especially directors, need some type of continuing education, and this training is very helpful and current," says Lonnie
Hammonds, a director on the Lone Star Ag Credit Board of Directors, who also has 20 years of commercial banking experience. "Each year it generates new ideas that we can talk about and take back to our management," Hammonds says.
Keith Morton joined the board of the FLBA of North Mississippi last year and attended the Director Development Program for the first time this year.
"As far as banking is concerned, I've only been on the borrower side of the desk," Morton says. "This meeting allowed me to go to the banking side of the desk. It gave me a different perspective. I understood for the first time why I've been asked some of the questions I've been asked in the past when I've borrowed money."
Keeping Up With Banking Issues
Burt Richards has been a director since 1988 and now serves as vice chairman of the Texas Land Bank board. He agrees that the training helps keep directors informed about issues related to banking, governance, new regulations and other financial trends.
"The speakers explain the issues in a way that we can understand, because we're not all bankers ourselves," Richards says. "The training has been very helpful in my role as a director. At practically every board meeting, some topic of discussion will come up that applies to what we learned at the Director Development Program."
In fact, Richards and his fellow board members found the meeting so informative that they asked their chief executive officer to attend a future session. "There was a lot of information there that was helpful, and we wanted him to hear it, too," Richards says.
Don Crawford, a CPA who serves on the Lone Star Ag Credit board with Hammonds, says that their entire board attends the same meeting together.
"That helps us because over meals and after the sessions we can discuss the topics and draw the line about how it applies to us," Crawford says. "I've been to five or six of them now, and I've taken something away from every single one. I can't stand to be in class not learning something -- that crawls all over me -- but I've never felt that way at this training."
Knowing Their Responsibility
The role of a Farm Credit board member has become increasingly complex in today's lending environment. It is a responsibility that the directors take seriously.
"When you're talking about financial organizations of this size -- ours is now over $1 billion -- it is helpful to have a financial background as a director to be able to ask the right questions of management," Hammonds says.
Directors also must make decisions that are in the best interest of the stockholdermembers who elected them. Like many Farm Credit directors, Morton serves on other boards, but he feels more responsibility as a Farm Credit director because he is making decisions that can affect other people's money.
"Borrowers are counting on others to manage the association in a manner that is secure and also will represent our values," Morton says. "I want to do that for my own purposes, as I am a borrower too, and I also want to represent other borrowers' interests. It is a huge honor that I've been elected, and I do not take it lightly."