in upstate New York. "Aren't you worried about the merger trend and its implications for your bank's future?" my friend asked. The banker replied, "Let me tell you a story. "There used to be two small, family-owned banks in our town, mine and another. The other was bought about two years ago by a larger regional organization. "As soon as they purchased the bank, the bigger organization sent in a team of management consultants to see what could be done to make the bank more profitable. "They analyzed everything, and I mean everything. And one of their conclusions was that the main office manager, whose desk was right at the front door, was not only fairly limited in his ability, but also did little for the bank. He appeared to just sit at his desk and greet people, which seemed to be little service for the salary he earned. "So the acquirer fired him." "Then the closing of accounts started. We gained a good number of the juiciest of their local deposits almost as soon as the man was fired. "It seems he did more than greet people. He was the person who collected the funds and arranged for the town's Little League team to go to Williamsport and the Little League World Series. "It turns out he was also active in every charity and nonprofit organization in town. He knew all of the bank's customers by name. And on top of this, he was a decorated war hero. "So let them come. As long as we know what really determines where people place their balances, we will survive." Now that's community banking.
*** In this regard, I would like to add a sequel to my column of Aug. 22, in which I talked about how my own bank had slowly slipped from being a community bank to a rather impersonal one. (The final straw was the termination of the private banking officers who had been so helpful to me and other depositors over the years.) In the 35 years I have been writing for American Banker, only two of my columns have received more attention: the one that described how my ATM card was eaten up by a monster ATM machine in Hoboken, N.J., and the one comparing Major League and minor league baseball with large-city and community banking. This time around I received offers from other banks - and especially credit unions - to switch my account to them, and several calls saying: "Right on!" But most fascinating was the call from the board chairman of my bank himself, thanking rather than chastising me for writing, and informing me that the president and CEO had sent copies of the column to all senior officers, saying: "We have to do everything to fix what is happening to us." But actions speak louder than words. My next communication from my bank was the announcement of a "new service": If I sent in one of the attached special withdrawal certificates, the bank would move money from my overdraft reserve to my checking account immediately. Now, since my overdraft feature allows me to overdraw, and the money is placed in my account as soon as it is needed, with no cost before then, I called to ask if I would still have no charge for the rescue until I used it. "No," I was told. "As soon as you turn in a certificate and move money into your account from overdraft, you pay the borrowing charge on the personal loan rate schedule." "Then why would anyone want to move it ahead of time, and why would you call this a new customer service?" I asked. The senior vice president I contacted replied, "That's the way it is." I ended the call thinking that this effort to exact extra interest from the depositor through "special withdrawal slips" - as a new service to the public!! - reflects everything community banking should avoid. And, as one respondent to my prior column put it, "If the banks in your town forget they are community organizations, some new one will come in and provide the service the old used to offer." Mr. Nadler is a contributing editor of the American Banker and professor of finance at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.