As indicated last week, our contest on informality in dress and language drew a fantastic response. Most respondents felt I was out of date to use only last names until asked to do otherwise. So, except for cold- call stockbrokers, whom I hate, I guess I'll accept everyone calling me "Paul" from the first contact.
Dressing down, however, drew a far less clear-cut response. There was vehemence on both sides. Here's some of what readers had to say.
"It hurts the bank's image to dress down, especially platform officers and tellers," writes Ghab El Shamy in Centreville, Va.
"How you look, dress, and act is a direct response to how you feel about the customer," agrees Mike Melvin, Perpetual Federal, Urbana, Ill.
"Based on what I have seen in my company and the reactions of my customers, I wholeheartedly vote for no dress-down days for bankers," says Nan L. Packard at Comerica in Detroit. "Should a company allow a casual day for employees without direct customer contact, it is necessary to set guidelines. These people freely roam the building and all too often customers see them wearing ripped jeans, stretch pants two sizes too small, T-shirts with obscene sayings, thong sandals, etc."
Allen C. Waddle of Cleveland adds, "I firmly believe that those who present themselves well in appearance, manner, and speech promote trust and respect, providing comfort to the customer that he or she will receive experienced, reasoned counsel and that the matter in discussion will be kept in confidence and not a part of casual conversation among friends, relatives, and competitors."
"I would like to add my own reasons why I feel it is inappropriate to be dressed casually in a customer/client contact position," writes Richard G. Tappen, United Commercial Capital Group, Bridgewater, N.J.
"Pride. I am proud of my 29 years in the banking industry and feel that proper dress is one of the requirements of my membership in this group.
"Self-esteem. Someone once said, 'When you look good, you feel good.' How true. I represent a bank and all it stands for: integrity, honesty, financial strength, and financial acumen. I want to look good-who doesn't? And when I do, the bank does."
Moderation of the dress code was favored in several letters.
"A professional establishment requires professional people," writes Nickle Vincent, Mountain Bank, Vail, Colo. "But there is always a flip side of the coin. Good portions of my customers have commented that they feel our bank is too uptight for our community. Each Friday, we dress down. Our customers feel more relaxed and comfortable around us."
"Banking and people have changed," notes Kathleen Lewek of Culver City, Calif. "We must adapt and be open to changes in order to provide what our clients want and need. I no longer feel that dress-down days are right or wrong all the time. It is important to consider the area and clientele, making the answer different for each branch."
Now let's hear from those favoring a dress-down attitude all the time.
"Many of our rural banks encourage their officers to wear their boots and comfortable western clothing," writes Robert Harris of the Texas Bankers Association. "This dress-down approach is also quite useful when those same loan officers venture into the country to count cattle on an inspection or just to pay a courtesy call on farm and ranch customers."
"Personally, I enjoy walking into a bank where the employees are happy and comfortable. Clearly, there is a lot of room between 'Wall Street' attire and a T-shirt," notes John Kiefer, Capital Factors, Boca Raton, Fla.
"Not once has anyone ever indicated that they felt our staff was unprofessional, that they were offended by our casual attire, or that their money was not safe because of the way we dressed," writes David Wright, Mountain Bank, Telluride, Colo. "A dressed-up banker is sometimes nothing short of intimidating to some people. Most of the time the customer is already coming from an uncomfortable position of having to ask for something that only the banker has the power to grant, i.e., a loan. So why make it more uncomfortable than it has to be?"
"I personally am wary of people who dress up. Who are they trying to impress?" writes Michael Wahowske, a Minnesotan. "It is as if they want to move the spotlight from what they are doing to how they look doing it. This strategy will be successful as long as there continue to be people like you, who judge the book by the cover."
Some respondents suggested compromises, such as this one from David Ratz, Oak Hill Banks, Jackson, Ohio:
"Our community bank has adopted the concept of a once-a-week casual day. We have defined casual to mean khakis or similar slacks plus a polo shirt, sweater, sweater-vest, or oxford shirt with our bank's logo embroidered on it. We order all of our casual logo-wear from Land's End, with the bank paying for an employee's first item of clothing. Most employees purchase several additional items at his/her own expense.
"This approach has proven popular with our employees and customers alike. Our employees appreciate the opportunity to dress less formally one day each week. It is also consistent with the predominant business culture in the rural communities that we serve. (When I go to my weekly Rotary Club meetings, the only people there in suits are lawyers and bankers.)
"Also, there is public relations value in having all of those forest- green shirts and sweaters emblazoned with the Oak Hill Banks logo walking around town during lunch hours and after work. The employees, in effect, become living billboards for the bank."
But our winner-president of Schmidlap National Bank for a day-is Craig M. Stump of First Knox National in Fredericktown, Ohio.
"Let me explain the benefits of dress-down day, a policy that our bank adopted three years ago, along with an additional day that we call 'spirit day,' in which we all wear bank-purchased polo-style shirts with the bank's name and logo.
"I can not tell you in words the morale-boosting, spirit-lifting, feel- good, high-productivity, stress-reducing, employee-retention-producing, and relaxing feeling that is obtained by such an open-minded policy. (Well, maybe I can.) Nobody is going to argue with you about the need to retain the traditional values and respect for others that we are losing by the day. However, to assume that the bank's image is being tarnished by this policy or that tradition is being sacrificed is a little presumptuous.
"I would suggest to you that even if I were wearing a tux, it would not stop you from filling out that withdrawal slip if I were rude or had my feet up on my desk. That is a serious attitude problem attached to the elitist mentality established early on in the banking industry by well- dressed, cigar-smoking men. That culture has now been replaced with men and women who, just like their customers, are busy working two jobs and trying to raise their families.
"Now, if you have experienced the scenario you describe in your column, then that bank has a problem much more serious than dress-because it is not delivering the kind of service that delights the customer, by pros who sit upright, look you in the eye with intent, and listen to your needs.
Those kinds of employees could wear gunnysacks; I guarantee you that even the pickiest customer would overlook the fact that they are wearing tactful casual wear that has been cleaned and pressed. That customer also will feel more like a guest in your business house than a visitor to a well-dressed funeral home."
Mr. Stump, your certificate of presidency is on its way. I am sure no one will mind if you make your time as CEO of our bank a dress-down day.