There are many bankers to whom a discussion of postwar monetary policy still means post-World War Two, who remember LaGuardia as a mayor and not just an airport, and most important today, are still a little intimidated by the concept of e-mail, voice mail, the Internet, and the information superhighway.
I have the same problem. I still use a typewriter, not a word processor. I was also dragged into the appliance store by my wife, who said we needed a fax machine when I thought it was ridiculous. Now, like most converts to the fax, I wonder how I lived without it.
But e-mail, telecommunications, and the so-called information superhighway still baffled and eluded me, just as it does some of my column readers, so I decided to do something about it.
I visited with my old friend Murray Mohl, an expert in telecommunications.
Murray, whose basement has more electronic equipment than a television station, explained that once the equipment is bought or leased, the daily costs are minimal. He pays only about $9 a month to join an on-line service network.
What did I learn? Did I finally decide to join the 20th century? Well, not exactly.
First I learned that the term e-mail is simply a way of saying that the message will be on a screen rather than in an envelope in your mailbox.
Voice mail is just a fancy way of describing what I get through my answering machine. So, now I know when someone's phone says the mailbox is full it simply means he ran out of tape, or the company would only subscribe to so much time for messages.
So far, I had not become envious.
Murray would not quit. He was bound to beat my skepticism. So he showed me the menu of what he could get free or at modest cost.
Of all the things on his menu, I remember his showing me that he can get stock market quotes, 15 minutes delayed, airline schedules and fares, weather reports, movie reviews, reprints of today's news in certain papers, restaurant choices, and virtually anything else that someone had stuffed into a computer and then allowed to be duplicated.
The one point where I was impressed was when he showed me that he could get stock quotes for any day in the past at a nickel a quote - a boon to trust officers. And trying to prove that I still had some advantage over the computer, I got Murray to admit that each quote was not adjusted for stock splits and dividends. That took a lot of extra digging.
But when I finished, I found that I had not seen anything I really missed. In fact, I felt that had I owned a system like Murray's, and most important, had I spent all the time it takes to learn how to use it, I would be spending most of my time playing with the system to see what it can do rather than doing my work.
No wonder businesses worry about how much time their employees spend playing computer games or just fiddling to see what is stuffed in the programs they buy instead of helping the firm do its job.
Now, I would be a fool to assert that every business or bank can operate today without being connected to the Internet. We live in a world where a split second can make or break a deal, as every banker knows.
But while the Internet can give you instant information that we who live without it must get from books, manuals, newspapers, and libraries, for many of us the cost in training people to use the system and then of the wasted hours as people are tempted to play with their computers to see what they can do is just not worth it.
Judgment, analytic ability, and interpersonal skills remain the key to success in banking. And that cannot be learned or honed by sitting all day in front of today's security blanket - the PC screen.
*** The January Contest Here's this month's problem:
The CEO has brought his son into the bank and made him an officer. His son pushes his weight around, telling long-standing employees at the small institution things like: "We in management will make decisions. You will carry them out."
His poor judgment, lack of experience, and abuse of power are truly damaging, yet he is the apple of the CEO's eye.
What can you do to protect the bank? Mr. Nadler is a contributing editor of the American Banker and professor of finance at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.