NEW ORLEANS - Despite record attendance, nature put a damper on this year's National Consumer Credit Conference sponsored by the American Bankers Association.

About 400 people, 40% more than last year, took part in the conference, which offered sessions on sales, marketing, regulation, and growing areas of consumer lending.

But Monday's storm, which dumped 18 inches of rain in less than six hours and left five dead in and around the city, did not miss the Hyatt Regency.

No one was hurt there, but flooding closed the kitchen, disabled escalators, and soaked rugs in lobbies and conference meeting rooms. Part of the roof of a bar caved in, and room cleaning was suspended.

Matthew Roberts, director of the community and consumer law division of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, was to have spoken on fair- lending with colleagues from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve. But the storm held up Mr. Roberts; an official said he was marooned in a rental car outside Baton Rouge.

Some others also got caught in the storm. One banker, for example, was left on Bourbon Street with no way to return to the hotel; taxis had stopped operating about 10:30 p.m. He paid a pickup truck owner $10 for a ride - at 3 a.m.

A group of bankers got stranded by flooding at Commander's Palace, the renowned restaurant in the Garden District. They didn't get back to the hotel until 7:30 Tuesday morning.

***

James C. Clymer, vice president of Dial Bank, a Sioux Falls, S.D., subsidiary of Norwest Corp., had some tough words for bankers.

He said bankers rarely give customers the service and products they want. He said bankers mainly take a "come-to-me" sales approach. Instead, bankers should act more like finance companies, which seek out customers and "do their homework," he said.

"We treat people like people," he said of finance companies.

***

Michael J. Brosnahan paced the dais before he started his talk and sales management techniques.

The executive vice president of Boatmen's Bank, Kansas City, Mo., who wore a brightly colored tie, a dark blue shirt, and no jacket, abruptly turned.

"Get up, everybody get up," he boomed.

The audience complied.

"Look left," he said. "Look right."

They did.

"Now, who sells home equity loans?"

Nearly everyone raised a hand.

"And who sells auto loans?"

Again, practically every audience member raised a hand.

"That's exactly my point," he said. "We are all lemmings. We follow the crowd. Something is going to have to separate us from the pack."

***

Overhead after a talk on fair-lending by Griffith L. Garwood, Federal Reserve director of the consumer and community affair division, and Janice M. Smith, associate director of the division of compliance and consumer affairs at the FDIC: "Well, that group was fairly evasive."

***

Gil Hamblet, a retired TRW executive, was another speaker who told bankers that they must be attentive to customers' needs.

He told a story about an older woman, standing in front of him on line at a bank, waiting to order new checks from a teller. The teller told her to go to a phone to order checks.

He said personal attention is still an important component of customer service.

Then he offered one final snippet of advice. "Live every day like it is the last day of your life. One day you'll be right."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.