My father once met a 90-year-old banker and commented, "You must have seen a lot of changes in banking in your day."
To which the old-timer responded, "Yes, and I fought every one of them."
What brings this to mind is the letter I recently got from Charlie Westerman, administrative director of the American Bankers Association's Stonier Graduate School of Banking, informing me that the program had been cut from two weeks in each of its three years to one six day week per year.
I know this was necessary. Banks cannot afford to lose officer talent for two straight weeks three years in a row in today's competitive environment. And with fewer and fewer community banks left, the Stonier staff had to accommodate a streamlining that could encourage those that remain to keep sending students.
But I guess that, like the 90-year-old banker, I might have fought this decision had I any power. Tradition is a hard thing to see ended.
Stonier was special. We at Rutgers University were lucky to be the host of the program for 50 years. And bankers would develop a loyalty to Rutgers like that of our full-time students. They would support the alumni fund. Some would be so proud of attending "Rutgers" - as Stonier was generally called before it moved to the University of Delaware - that their attendance would even be mentioned in their obituaries.
No wonder. Think of bankers going away from the bank for two weeks of meeting with colleagues, doing specialized field work in the hope that the thesis examiners would accept a dissertation on "Financing the Tavern Industry of New Brunswick, N.J."
For some, it was the first true college experience of their lives. For others it was the opportunity to return to an environment they hadn't enjoyed since they graduated.
Stonier officials were smart: They judged each student more by his experience in banking than by his college experience, reckoning that good college grades alone do not a good banker make.
And notice, I said "his," not "his or her." I had been teaching at Stonier for about 15 years before they let the first woman into the school - about 40 years after its founding. And these six brave women were told by their managers: Instead of making you officers of our banks, we will send you to Rutgers."
Those were the days when banking employment base was two-thirds women and one-third men, but the industry tried to get all of its top talent from the one-third.
Sure, this tradition of an all-male student body was terrible - though it was the generally accepted policy of the day, just like promoting lenders to all the top officer jobs, and putting more emphasis placed on family and manners than knowledge and skill.
So how can I and many others wax nostalgic as we see Stonier change drastically to conform to the pressures of the late 1990s?
I guess because it is a final reminder that tradition no longer means much in banking. The days are gone when banking was a "profession," with a guarantee of lifetime tenure if you were lucky enough to gain bank employment in the first place.
The days of genteel correspondent relationships are gone. No longer can a bank use the same money-center as its major correspondent, adviser, friend, and supplier of dinners and theater tickets from one generation to the next.
Banking is now a streamlined business. How can you compare an ATM or an "800" number and a recorded message to the president who sat in the lobby and waved to every customer, calling them by their first names?
Sure, banks do more today. They offer far better services for less cost. Their rates are competitive with nonbanks, and the days when you accepted a low savings rate or high borrowing cost just because your banker said that was the "policy" are long gone.
But we can still remember when you dressed up to go to your bank, and when the bank teller occupied an important position that took years to reach. The truncation of Stonier is an occasion to stop and reflect on how different our industry is today from when many readers of this newspaper entered it.
Mr. Nadler is a contributing editor of the American Banker and professor of finance at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.