After 40 years with American Banker, 13 exclusively as a community banking columnist, I am finally trying to enter the 21st century. This, dear readers, is my first column transmitted by electronic mail instead of snail mail or fax.

Of course, even after lessons with my computer tutor I do not feel in control of the process, and I'm still not sure my editors will receive this in one piece. [Editor's note: We didn't.] But with only minimal experience with Microsoft Word, e-mail, and the Internet, I have learned some important lessons. Here goes:

  1. Don't be a mule. Many bankers have been like me in refusing to accept new ideas. They feel that the old ways are just fine. And in so doing they rob themselves and their banks of the opportunity to improve efficiency, employee satisfaction, and customer service.
    I was asked to e-mail my columns so my busy editors would not have to spend time transcribing my faxes. Four paragraphs into this one, I feel more confident already.
  2. Don't overload employees with useless information. From the time my wife and I got a computer - which I learned how to use only recently - we have been bombarded with e-mail messages.
    Many, of course, were those tired, tasteless jokes that I now delete even before opening them. Many of the rest were simply unnecessary.
    The lesson for bankers is that they should think twice before sending e-mails to the entire staff. There's no question that e-mail is a terrific tool for communicating, especially to large groups of people. But just because it is easy for you to send a message, remember that others are not always eager to receive them.
    There is also the boy-who-cried-wolf factor. By constantly e-mailing trivial subjects, you run the risk that important messages will be ignored.
  3. Help your customers make choices. The Internet has given consumers such a dizzying array of them that we are always left with the feeling that we could have gotten a better deal had we searched a bit harder.

As bankers, you need to make sure your customers know they are getting the best deal or service terms. For example, if longtime customers are still paying monthly fees on a checking account even though you offer free checking for those with direct deposit, tell them. They will appreciate it.Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is a professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management in Newark, N.J.

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