Generations of bankers have cut their teeth on the Stanford Bank Game and on Banksim, computer simulations that put students at the helm of a bank and force them to make decisions.
This year, for the first time in a while, new versions have been released of both games. The changes are meant to reflect more modern banking circumstances, signaling a new direction in the way bankers are trained and in the skills they must bring to their jobs.
The Stanford Bank Game, which dates back 32 years and had not been updated in eight, is owned and distributed by a private company in San Francisco. Its version 11 went out last month to 100 universities and banking schools; fresh content included derivatives, syndicated loans, and variable interest rates.
The revised game encourages students to gauge success and performance by their bank's stock price, rather than more traditional measures like return on equity.
Banksim, a competing product offered by the American Bankers Association, also has undergone a major overhaul. After three years of revision planning, the game was reintroduced in February and used this summer at the ABA's Stonier School of Banking and other major banking schools.
The changes were meant "to reflect the complexity of decisions that bankers now face in real life," said Perette Batchler, a senior training consultant for the ABA.
Ms. Batchler said the new features include "the capacity to engage in swaps" and "a private banking function, which has become big in some institutions."
Another modern reality has seeped in: "You also have the capacity to downsize, which, unfortunately, is an element that bankers have to face in today's environment," she said.
Both computer games originally were programmed for mainframe systems; both have since been changed so that they work most efficiently in Windows programs on personal computers.
And the technological upgradings have been accompanied by pedagogical improvements.
Terrence Beals, author and publisher of the Stanford Bank Game, said the traditional accounting model that the old version of his game relied on has been replaced by an "economic value model."
"Banks have to be managed for the return to the investor," Mr. Beals said, "and the traditional accounting models don't give as good a picture of that as economic value models do."
"Bankers have always measured their performance fundamentally against the performance of other banks, and that has pretty much gone down the tubes," he said. Mr. Beals' company is called Human Resources West Inc.
"Wells Fargo's takeover of First Interstate has laid down the ground rules: that the value of your stock is going to be absolutely crucial going into the future," he said.
Academics who have been test-driving the new Stanford Bank Game give it high marks.
"It's a wonderful step forward because it now brings in hedging instruments to the banking process," said Peter Rose, a banking professor at Texas A&M University. "That will allow our students to get the most updated information and to get used to the tools that every banker needs."
Mr. Rose said the improved version was "a real step forward in banking education."
John Halloran, an associate professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame and director of its Center for Research in Banking, praised Stanford game changes that let students set variable interest rates on loans, rather than just fixed rates.
"The new version allows students to use derivatives to hedge interest rate risk and even to speculate," he said. "In our program here in the College of Business, the stress so much these days is on the use of derivatives, so that really is a good feature."
The latest version of the Stanford Bank Game features another newfangled characteristic: It exists entirely on computer disk.
A paperless version of the game's instruction manual is now being prepared by a team of professors at the University of North Carolina and will be sent out this month.
"Distribution of the game will be entirely electronic, and it will be available over the Internet," said Tony Plath, director of UNC's Center for Banking Studies, who is working on the manual.
"Eventually, you will play it in an interactive way," he said. "A team at UNC Charlotte could play a team in Washington, or at New York University."
Banksim is primarily computer-based but still uses paper decision forms and scoring sheets, Ms. Batchler said.
The games' premises have been the same for decades: You are a member of the senior management team at a large commercial bank, and your job is to maximize profits. You price loans and deposits, make personnel decisions, and measure your progress by quarterly results.
A typical banking class is divided into five or six teams, with each team managing one bank and competing against the others.
Mr. Plath is hoping to coax examiners from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to play against his students this year.
Mitchell Owen, dean of Montana State University's School of Business at Bozeman, calls in teams of local bank managers to compete against his students.
"They share their experiences with the students part way through the game and then at the end," Mr. Owen said. "Occasionally, a student team even beats the bankers, which is a little humiliating, especially when the bank president is on the team."
But bank executives view the exercise as free training for their deputies, Mr. Owen said, and everyone benefits from the experience.
"They can't possibly get a feel for it through the textbooks the same way they can through the simulation," Mr. Owen said.
The games are fun but can be difficult to use. Several professors said that switching to the new versions is time-consuming.
Mr. Beals said he is exploring ways to help instructors and students get the most from the Stanford Bank Game. One likely option, he said, would be to link the game to a banking textbook next year.
"It's always the most popular part of the class," he said, "and it always gets rave reviews, but that doesn't address the issue of whether students are learning much."