Sometimes the ideas for my columns come from letters sent in by friends and happy readers (or more likely, unhappy). But most of the inspiration comes from what happens to me every day.
Some recent events reminded me of community banking.
One was the way I was treated by an airline employee in the business- and-first-class lounge on a flight to a Australia that had cost us 210,000 frequent-flier miles.
"Oh no, you're not real business-class passengers," we were told. "You paid with miles; you can't come in here."
Wow! Talk about treating loyal passengers like second-class citizens.
What's the relationship to community banking? I am sure community bankers reading this will make sure they don't have policies that can turn good will into scorn as quickly as that airline's do.
Another example: I was reading in a railroad fan magazine about an Amtrak train with a deadhead car that the company kept closed even though the rest of the train was packed. If Amtrak had let passengers into the empty car, the train's individual profit and loss would have been charged for it.
How many banks have policies that make a department look good to the bean counters while the image or profitability of the entire bank suffers for it?
In books about large banks, such as Phil Zweig's superb "Wriston," on Citibank and its rivals, one sees this narrow focus on the department time and again. But in community banks the full picture should be clear enough so that such triumphs of accounting over reality never occur.
Finally, I went to a local county fair in Florida and walked around the amusement area talking to the staff the morning before the gates opened.
One man was obviously in his element. He happily told me that his concession (a nonmotorized slide for kids) was next to the animals, so he had lots of traffic of friendly children who appreciated the ride.
He was not your typical roustabout who travels all year with the carnival, so I asked him what he had done before.
His answer: He had been a successful Memphis lawyer who burned out. But he added: "I've never been so happy in my career as I am now."
Relevance to the reader of this column? Community bankers generally seem to love what they do, and it shows. More important, their enthusiasm wins and keeps customers, no matter how advanced the services of the larger competitors may be.