BANKTHINK

Unforgettable Bankers

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It was a privilege and a learning experience to meet some old-school bankers during my travels as a bank examiner some 50 years ago. Here are some I could never forget.

In a small country bank, the president rarely spent any time at his desk, but would be all over the bank. He walked around without a coat, sporting suspenders and a bow tie. The sprightly old man did not believe in overdrafts, kept all the bank reserves in U.S. Treasuries, and lent only fifty percent of the value of the land appraised at 1920's values. He slept at night.

The cashier of a small branch bank was actually the top man. When asked why he was not the president of the bank, he would explain it this way: "If I were the president, and turned down a loan, the man would feel bad, and that he had no recourse. But since I am 'only' the cashier, he can go over my head … to the president." The president was but a figurehead.

The president of small town bank was leaving after closing time, as the bank examiners were approaching. He recognized the examiners, with whom he was familiar, and greeted them: "OK, here are the keys, you, S.O.B.'s."

The president of a small town bank did not believe in soliciting new business. His rationale was that he would be in an embarrassing situation if he had to turn down a loan request of a customer he had solicited. The customer could claim that his previous bank would have made him the loan. So, this banker preferred new customers to come to his bank unsolicited, attracted by the good reputation of the bank.

A rail closed the platform of the bank, behind which sat the officers, but in front ... there were no chairs. The reasoning was that by keeping the customers standing on their feet, they would not take too much of the bankers' time.

The president of an old "ag" bank was a farmer himself, a big man, and, when he came to the bank from the fields, he did not bother changing his farm working-clothes or muddy shoes.

A visit with a Swiss banker was most enlightening. The latitude that Swiss bankers had was extraordinary. They could take a position and partner in businesses they financed. If an American banker did what a Swiss banker could do, he would wind up in prison. Presto!

The manager of the construction loan department of a major bank was also a lawyer. The documentation of his loans was tied up with ribbons. Every necessary document was in the file. The write-ups were clear and concise. Examining his loans was not only easy, but a lesson in construction financing and documentation.

The manager of a branch bank was a humorless man, of few words. After many annual examinations, for the first time he offered to treat me to lunch. During the conversation the manager opened up and recounted that he had flown a B-17 in Italy during World War II, as it turned out, on missions over the city I was living in. I can still remember that, out in the open, crouching in a ditch for lack of shelters, I could read the markings of the low-flying B-17's overhead, and worse yet I could see the bombs they were dropping directly over my head. They missed.

I remember it well. It was Christmas day 1944. I would never have imagined that, 30 years later, we would meet again. Fortunately, under different circumstances.

Over his 50-year career in banking, Ugo Nardi worked his way up from a teller to an auditor, lending officer, state bank examiner, and a bank president. He retired in 2000.

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