SAN FRANCISCO - Trust bankers at the Bank Marketing Association's annual investment banking and trust marketing conference were whisked away from the lavish Fairmont Hotel for temporary incarceration at Alcatraz.
Fidelity Investments last week treated about 120 bankers to a special sunset tour of the federal prison-turned-national park that included a speech given by a former bank robber who spent 10 years on the infamous island in San Francisco Bay.
En route to the Alcatraz boat, Fidelity's guests, who received invitations that read "Go directly to jail," listened to a bus driver's comments about the latest California bank acquisition rumor.
"Oh yeah, Bank of America and NationsBank, that would make it the 18th largest bank after the 17 Japanese banks."
Conference chairman Gary A. Zino captivated the audience when he spoke about the low morale and job insecurity industry consolidation has engendered in private banking and trust units.
Mr. Zino, a senior vice president with Barnett Banks Trust Co., said that the fear and rumor of job loss is ubiquitous. At his own bank, he overheard employees fretting over a restructuring. "At Barnett, I know for a fact that we are not downsizing, but the perception is there," Mr. Zino said.
Mr. Zino is disturbed by the language of job loss that has crept into banks in the wake of merger activity.
He said he takes exception to bankers using words like "terminated," "sacked," "bumped," and "clean house."
"It's like we're some sort of organizational dust bunnies," he said.
Mr. Zino appealed to trust bankers to make survivors of a downsizing feel valued, and called for the executives to break up turf battles. He also encouraged bankers to speak to the staffs in plain English.
"Martin Luther King did not say, 'I have a strategic plan. If he had, nobody would have listened to him," Mr. Zino said.
The most humorous speaker of all was "Dr. Robert Payne," a luncheon speaker introduced as a special adviser and consultant to the "President's Council on Economic Development."
Trust bankers, waiting for "Dr. Payne" to muse on current economic trends, were initially confused by the purported Beltway insider's double- talk.
But they soon realized they were victims of a practical joke: "Dr. Payne" is really a comedian who specializes in silly talk. He was purposefully inaudible at times, and often contradictory.
Once the jig was up, the bankers were entertained by comments like, "In the federal government, no one has ever been hurt by hard work. Why take the chance?"
Meanwhile, federal employees really were hard at work outside the conference. Secret Service agents lurking around the hotel were not looking for counterfeiters among the bankers; they were protecting the King and Queen of Norway, who happened to be staying at the Fairmont.