After announcing plans last week to restructure, the industry trade group for local banks appears to be still in search of an identity. The organization has decided to call itself the Bankers Association, continuing an uncertain metamorphosis that began five years ago.

What had been the D.C. Bankers Association (DCBA), was renamed the Greater Washington Financial Institutions Association (GWFIA), then the Washington Area Bankers Association (WABA) before this latest name change. The new name, the Bankers Association (TBA), really doesn't suggest that members of the organization are sure what or whom it represents. Stay tuned for more announcements. Or, as schedule-makers would say, TBA.

"We have made a decision to replace our old association with a new organization called 'The Bankers Association,' which will better serve the banks and continue to serve the local community," Robert P. Pincus, the association's president, said in a statement announcing the plan to restructure. Pincus also said, by way of explanation, that officers of the trade group agree "that the challenging times being experienced in the banking industry indicate a change is needed in the local association."

The banking industry is going through challenging times, to be sure. It's doubtful, however, that the association's choice of names or direction will help it get through these times or, indeed, enhance its prospects for becoming a viable organization.

According to a story in The Washington Post last week, WABA will drop some educational and training activities as part of the restructuring that takes effect March 31. It's not clear why an organization that has stressed professional development in the past would consider dropping educational and training activities now. The challenging times in the banking industry, as Pincus described them, are compelling reasons, it would seem, for putting greater emphasis on education and training.

The new organization's focus, WABA said, will be twofold: "to provide information and insights to the members regarding District government affairs and legislative actions which may impact the business community, and to coordinate collaborative community investment lending efforts and {community reinvestment act} policy issues."

The new focus appears to be as vague -- unfocused, really -- as the organization's new name implies. As a lobbying organization, WABA's role has been unclear for some time, even to some bankers. Nothing in the new focus makes it any clearer.

It's unlikely to become clear, in fact, until someone in the organization decides that District-based banks ought to have their own industry trade organization, their own legislative agenda and a program that reflects their unique position as corporate citizens of the District.

It was WABA, an amalgam of District, Maryland and Virginia financial institutions, that took on the former D.C. superintendent of banking in a long and bitter public dispute. It was WABA that led a determined lobbying effort to keep out-of-state organizations from obtaining D.C. bank charters, giving them certain advantages over nationally chartered banks.

No such hybrid with split loyalties and interests lobbies in Annapolis for Maryland banks or in Richmond for Virginia banks. The respective bankers associations in those states do.

At least half of WABA members are either Maryland and Virginia institutions or they're owned by bank holding companies in those two states. Six of the top eight or nine banks in the District are owned by Maryland and Virginia bank companies. Riggs National Bank, the largest in the District and still locally controlled, hasn't been a member of the local bankers organization for four or five years.

It became clear some time ago that WABA needed to refocus but this latest attempt at restructuring appears to fall short of the mark. Call it DCBA, GWFIA, WABA or TBA. It's still an organization searching for an identity, a purpose and justification for paying its executive vice president $140,000 a year.

Associates of Riggs National Bank Chairman Joe L. Allbritton say he severed Riggs' association with WABA because he felt there was no longer a commonality of interests among members.

A series of interstate mergers in which District banks were acquired by Maryland and Virginia bank holding companies obviously forced the D.C. Bankers Association to seek a reorganization in 1986. At the same time, the old Metropolitan Washington Savings and Loan League was being destroyed by mergers, failures and franchise transfers from the District to Maryland and Virginia. The move to Northern Virginia by Perpetual Savings Bank, the area's largest, symbolized the S&L industry's decline in the District, from about 20 firms in 1975, to just four.

So, after 85 years, the D.C. Bankers Association gave way to a new umbrella organization representing banks and thrifts in metropolitan Washington, hence the change to GWFIA in 1986. From the beginning there were questions about the viability of an organization whose members have so many conflicting interests and goals.

"The interests of the banks were so different, there was no longer a commonality," an associate said in describing Allbritton's reasons for pulling the District's biggest bank out of the trade organization.

Allbritton, in fact, never really seemed to share the goals of most DCBA members after buying control of Riggs in 1981. His abrupt departure on the first day of the DCBA's annual convention at the Greenbrier, a posh West Virginia resort, seemed to signal his unhappiness with the organization shortly after he became chairman of Riggs.

Allbritton almost always marches to his own drum beat, so it wasn't too surprising when he parted company with WABA. The day he exited the Greenbrier, the last time apparently as a member of WABA, Allbritton was seen chatting amiably for several minutes with a bellman in the lobby while other bankers were heading for the golf courses and tennis courts.

Now, nearly 10 years later, John V. Pollock, the chief executive of John Hanson Savings Bank in Prince George's County, is having misgivings about the organization's purpose. "The regionalization concept is very difficult to maintain," Pollock, a former executive at defunct National Bank of Washington and a former DCBA president, told Washington Post reporter Sharon Walsh. "It works at the Board of Trade, but it hasn't worked in WABA ... If the Virginia Bankers Association is doing something, there's no need for D.C. to do it, too," said Pollock.

That says it all about the need for WABA, or the Bankers Association, as it will be known after March 31, to readjust its focus entirely to becoming a service, education and advocacy organization for D.C. banks.