A commentary in The New York Times nearly a year ago on the fast- evolving subject of technology still resonates with me - because it is relevant for all of us in the banking world.
The writer, Allen Robins, told about buying a turntable for his record albums, in addition to the tuner, compact disc player, and dual-tape cassette player he had purchased.
"I remember buying a tape cassette deck several years ago for the sole purpose of recording selected pieces from my albums," he wrote. "After a few months of disc jockeying, I expected to throw out the LPs and just keep the tapes. Instead, dozens of new tapes are on the shelf above scores of albums.
"When CDs hit the stores, I hoped to dispense with tapes and vinyl. Needless to say, the CDs take up a third shelf."
The same scenario is being played out when it comes to computer and communications technology.
Major technology companies are taking steps to make video-quality images available on personal-computer screens. The cable television industry is delivering modems that could take high-speed Internet access to levels not possible on today's home PCs.
"Will TV vanish into the expanding Internet?" Mr. Robins wondered. "Or will on-line technology slip into the vast television enterprise? The right guess will determine the value of stock portfolios for years. And yet in the near future it seems obvious to me that neither will gain the upper hand."
He pointed out that all technological change creates redundancy, in which the new coexists with the old.
The telephone was in widespread use late in the 19th century but did not immediately replace the telegraph, which was invented in the 1830s. Telegraphy stayed popular through World War II because it offered what other media did not-prompt personal delivery of printed messages.
Polaroid cameras did not replace conventional 35-millimeter photography. Television did not consign motion pictures to oblivion-and for a simple reason: There is nothing like going to the movies.
Many of us have set our sights on electronic commerce and remote banking. We are convinced it is here to stay - that it will change our lives and the ways we do business. But it is still a leading-edge development, affecting only a fraction of business volumes. And even as it grows, it will not fully displace the other delivery systems.
That Times article and its broad validity remind us that even amid radical change the overlaps last longer than we expect-even as the impact of new technology is unquestionably profound.
We should not bet our companies on the quick adoption of new technology, though the pace of change has accelerated and its impact has been amplified. Overestimating could cost us dearly.
As Citigroup technology executive Edward Horowitz has said: "We don't bet the company ... we bet on the customer."
This is not to say we should ignore change or move slowly toward it; quite the opposite.
We must dive into the future, but with our eyes wide open. Let us not assume that replacement and substitution will take place quickly. Redundancy is the rule, and we must deal with that. Ms. Bird, an executive vice president at Wells Fargo Bank, is based in Sacramento, Calif.