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Corporate attorney also serves as compliance officer for bank

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Growing up on a 126-acre farm in north-central Indiana, it might have been fate that Stephen Wilson ended up working as an attorney focused on the agricultural aspect of life.

After all, he credits the livestock feeding, hay bailing, barn cleaning, field mowing, and corn hauling with having a tremendous impact on shaping his eventual career choice and giving him even more experience in the legal role he now holds.

The longtime lawyer works as general counsel and compliance officer for First Farmers Bank & Trust Converse, building on a 23-year career as a banking attorney by going back to his agricultural roots. Now, he's stationed at a financial institution that's remained successful, but busy despite the national banking crisis hitting many of the country's banks during the past 18 months.

"The fact is that we're very different in what we do from what the bigger banks do," he said. "But what's happening now is going to have a significant impact on our bank and smaller community banks. ... We're all reaping the benefits of what we've done in the past as a financial industry."

Wilson said his farming experience - plus the fact that he's also raised hogs - and the initial years of his legal career paved his way to First Farmers.

After attending Purdue University and studying economics in the 1970s, Wilson decided that he wanted to study that topic and politics more closely. So he went to the London School of Economics for political theory.

Earning his law degree from Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis and an LL.M. in taxation from New York University School of Law, Wilson started as an associate at the Valparaiso firm of Hoeppner Wagner & Evans before making the switch to banking law. He's held positions with First National Bank & Trust in both Logansport and Kokomo for a combined 20 years, and Merchants/National City for 13 years.

Eventually, he found his way to First Farmers in 2007. The community bank has branches in more than a dozen Indiana communities and has assets totaling about three-quarters of a billion dollars with about 60 percent of its loans being related to agriculture, Wilson said.

As general counsel and compliance officer, Wilson is responsible for any and all of First Farmers' legal matters except for personnel or mergers and acquisitions. Mostly he's seen work involving loan documentation, foreclosure, bankruptcies, and collections. He also oversees a three-person compliance department that monitors the bank's obedience with state and federal laws, as well as providing assistance in implementing changes that result from new laws and regulations.

Working at larger banks in the past, Wilson said that and his agricultural background prepared him for what's involved in his current position and he's able to more fully appreciate the changes that have happened in the industry during the past couple decades and that are under way now. For example, bankers at smaller institutions are able to issue loans more carefully based on familiarity with someone's character and their personal history with the bank instead of simply relying on what a paper banking record or credit history shows.

"What you see with larger banks is that, although they may hold themselves out as community-minded and having interest in the community and local customers, the bigger they are the harder it is to provide that local aid and comfort," he said. "You don't know customers as well and you're not able to evaluate the intangibles."

At First Farmers, it's different because customers may not be able to pay immediately until a crop comes in or livestock is produced at different times of the year, Wilson said. Customers may have unique collateral like livestock and farm equipment that other banks wouldn't understand how to value or take security interest on, he said.

While those differences have kept the bank safer than many mainstream institutions statewide and nationally, Wilson expects significant changes in 2010. Congressional legislation would require community banks - including First Farmers - to escrow insurance taxes and offer private mortgage insurance, which would have a huge impact. He also pointed to laws and regulations that have taken effect already, such as new settlement procedures for Housing and Urban Development loans, and overdraft policies on all loans.

He knows the flood of changes will continue, and even though he does hope it will slow eventually, he doesn't anticipate the pace changing anytime soon.

Amber R. Van Til, the vice president of government relations for the Indiana Bankers Association, said what Wilson and First Farmers is seeing is being echoed in all of the state's smaller community banks.

"Being a corporate counsel for any bank these days is a job that has lot of weight on their shoulders," she said. "Changes are coming so fast and furiously that it's tough to keep up with these new regulations and how they complement what's been in place in the past. The banking world we know today is no longer the banking world we grew up with or knew 30 years ago."

She credits those like Wilson who serve in both the general counsel and compliance officer roles because finding those compliance officers can be a tough task for community banks. Those people aren't required to be attorneys, but many are turning to lawyers because of the amount of legal work involved.

"There's so much more legalese involved and a lot to understand, especially when there's so much legislation out there," she said

"As a corporate attorney and one-person legal department, you have to be a generalist and field multiple questions in different areas every day," Wilson said. "If you don't want to be continually learning or you're not used to a fast-paced life, being a corporate attorney isn't for you."

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  1. Im very happy for you, getting ready to go down that dirt road myself, and im praying for the same outcome, because it IS sometimes in the childs best interest to have visitation with grandparents. Thanks for sharing, needed to hear some positive posts for once.

  2. Been there 4 months with 1 paycheck what can i do

  3. our hoa has not communicated any thing that takes place in their "executive meetings" not executive session. They make decisions in these meetings, do not have an agenda, do not notify association memebers and do not keep general meetings minutes. They do not communicate info of any kind to the member, except annual meeting, nobody attends or votes because they think the board is self serving. They keep a deposit fee from club house rental for inspection after someone uses it, there is no inspection I know becausee I rented it, they did not disclose to members that board memebers would be keeping this money, I know it is only 10 dollars but still it is not their money, they hire from within the board for paid positions, no advertising and no request for bids from anyone else, I atteended last annual meeting, went into executive session to elect officers in that session the president brought up the motion to give the secretary a raise of course they all agreed they hired her in, then the minutes stated that a diffeerent board member motioned to give this raise. This board is very clickish and has done things anyway they pleased for over 5 years, what recourse to members have to make changes in the boards conduct

  4. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  5. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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