In May I will celebrate 25 years in banking. I am, almost officially, one of the "older guys." And I love it!
Recently I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down to reflect on my time in the industry. One coffee quickly turned into three and as the hours passed the pages in my notebook filled up.
As I reviewed my notes something unexpected happened. I began to question my generational identity. I started in banking in the late 1980s, so I am still too young to truly be considered an old-school banker, but I am also too old to be considered a new-school banker. So, I asked myself, "What generation do I belong to?"
From day one at the bank I was mentored by a handful of veterans—a mix of men and women who taught me how to walk, talk and dress like an old-school banker. They stressed the importance of relationship banking and lectured on topics like community presence, handwritten notes, having coffee with customers and touring businesses. They showed me how to engage in effective face-to-face conversations, to write credits with pencil and paper and make presentations using nothing more than a flip chart. One of them even took the time to teach me the art of the handshake.
Not long after getting my banking legs under me, the technology revolution hit like a tidal wave. I had a Commodore 64 home computer, so I guess I was a little ahead of the curve. I can still remember hammering away on that thing while listening to a bootlegged Van Halen cassette. I used the opposite side of that same cassette to store my computer data. I also remember the first time I heard a fax machine wailing as a colleague forwarded loan docs to a lawyer.
After that came Palm Pilots, beepers, briefcase phones, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, the Internet and email. I have vivid memories of the day we launched our first small-business credit scoring system. Later we adapted to the first websites, and then Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And just recently, I watched as a business owner bypassed her bank by turning her iPhone into a merchant terminal with nothing more than a small piece of plastic she picked up for free at a Starbucks.
So I asked myself the question again. What generation do I belong to? Am I old school or new school? I am both, it turns out.
You see, my generation is the hybrid generation! We are a once-in-the-history-of-the-industry mutation between old school and new school.
As hybrids, we are the only generation of bankers to operate on both sides of the technology revolution. We are connected to the old-school bankers of yore, but we are still here, we are in our prime, and we know how to bank old school and new school. We can write a handwritten thank-you note and we can send a text or a tweet. We can carry a business conversation for 18 holes and we know how to create a following on Facebook. We can get together for a Skype meeting or talk face-to-face over a simple cup of coffee. (And for the record, we will never count a Skype session as an actual, face-to-face meeting.)
We built our banks' first websites, but we also ran the brick-and-mortar branches and offices they supported. We are the people who actually experienced the business problems that all this new technology came along to solve.
As members of this generation, we carry a huge responsibility. It is up to us to bridge the giant gulf between the generation of bankers we learned from and the generation of bankers that will learn from us. We must help carry forward the traditions of relationship banking while stressing the importance of technology adaptation and modern leadership.
So go ahead and celebrate by downloading a few Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper or Journey songs. Then pull the young guns aside, take them out for lunch and tell them what it was like back when the turnaround time for credit meant 30 days, not 30 minutes. Afterward, walk around the office with your head held high. You are a pioneer! And you are the essential link between banking's past and its future.
Richard Henry is the founder and president of Millennium Consulting, a Boston-based firm specializing in developing leadership and marketing training programs for banks. He has worked in the banking industry since 1988 as both a banker and a strategic consultant.