We had a chapel speaker at college (yes, I'm from an era when many schools had a compulsory chapel) who told our class:
"Some of you are Republicans because your fathers are Republicans, and the rest of you are Democrats because your fathers are Republicans."
I'm sure many people from banking families identify with that statement. They wanted to go into anything but banking, but somehow they slipped into the field - and have ended up loving it.
The same sort of thing happened to me. I wanted anything but my father's field, banking economics - yet here I am. And I love it so much that I never feel I deserve the paychecks I get for teaching it. (Maybe my students feel the same way.)
In any event, I think Mark Twain had it right when he wrote that his father didn't know much when the writer was a teenager but learned an amazing amount later on.
And as I look back on the career of Marcus Nadler - a name that many older bankers still remember - three pieces of advice he gave everyone come to mind:
What you fear most never happens. Something else does.
If you don't have any troubles, don't go looking for some.
The government never comes in unless we cause it to - but once it comes in, it never leaves.
This third dictum holds true in all businesses, not just banking. And it is the reason for this column:
Banking legislation and regulations developed in response to abuses.
I remember bank ads that said, "Put away (plug in amount) per month for 30 years, and at the end of that time you will have $100,000."
Then there would be the fine print, or quickly mumbled statement, "Assuming taxes are paid from another source."
Regulation CC, telling bankers how soon they must give collected balances on checks submitted for clearance, was also a response to abuses.
I remember selling a house, depositing the check, and being told to wait 12 days before using the money - though written on a bank only 15 miles from mine. I could have pushed that check with my nose to Nutley, N.J., in the time they took to credit it to my account.
And of course the Community Reinvestment Act, the biggest nuisance to bankers, came because some banks were just plain brutal in denying credit to minorities.
Why am I writing about this now? Because today we are seeing similar abuses - in credit card ads - that could lead to new consumer protection legislation as unpleasant as what's already on the books.
All of us, bankers and civilians, receive frequent offers of credit cards with a low interest rate boldly printed on the envelope but fine print inside revealing that this is limited to the first couple of months.
And now the Discover Card, which has never been a favorite of mine, has sent me a new promotion confirming that opinion.
The promotion offers INTEREST-FREE CASH ADVANCES. Being a believer in the principle that there are no free lunches, I read the fine print.
What I discovered is that the interest has merely been disguised, as a "small transaction fee" - 2.5% of your cash advance if you pay your balance in full each month.
Now, assuming 30 days from the time you get the cash until you have to pay for it, our INTEREST FREE CASH ADVANCE works out to cost of 30% a year.
That ain't free to me.
Though people generally tell pollsters that they dislike bankers and banks, they usually make an exception for their own local bank and bankers.
Yet when activists look at the actions of a few and push for legislation affecting all, the local bank gets hurt the same as the rest.
Allowing these deceptive ads to continue without doing anything as an industry to stop them can be as nearsighted as the man smiling on the deck of the sinking Titanic who explains:
"Why should I care? It's not my boat."
Mr. Nadler is a contributing editor of the American Banker and professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.