Late last month I attended the 25th-anniversary graduation ceremony of the Mid South School of Banking-one of the educational institutions that have converted banking from a business into a profession.
Mid South, held on the campus of the University of Memphis, calls itself a mid-level school-one that provides more-advanced training than state bankers associations do but less-advanced than graduate schools of banking.
The students put in three years of work-home study plus three one-week residence sessions. And May's 50 graduates were as proud (and relieved) as those of any educational program.
Usually about 95% of the students are bank officers. Sixty percent to 70% are women, and overall the student body is equally divided between large and community banks from six mid-South states.
The school follows the uniquely American tradition of offering broad educational opportunities-a tradition established by the Morrill Land Grant Act, which established many state colleges, and the GI Bill of Rights.
M.E. Bond, a professor at University of Memphis and executive director of the Mid South School of Banking, runs a tight ship-a happy one. You should have heard the roars when "Bank of Cool" was announced as the winner of the Bank Simulation game.
It is also obvious that Prof. Bond keeps an eye on the real world in planning his curriculum and teaching staff.
He told the graduates, their families, and the press that in Bank Simulation there were 10 teams in two cities-some teams with five students and some with four. But the fact that a five-person team won shows that banking does not need to downsize its staff to remain profitable.
A popular teacher, Jim Tripp-a finance professor at University of Tennessee in Martin- told of some lessons that students said they'd learned from his Bank Sim game. One team's members said the main lesson they'd learned was "Don't invest in your own bank's stock."
In these days of downsizing, expense control, and mergers and acquisitions, banker schools do not have waiting lines for admission. That was not always the case.
But now, as Prof. Bond put it, "sending one student to a bankers school can use up a branch manager's entire training budget for a year-if he or she still has one."
Evidently, though, banks think it's worthwhile. And the school's 50 trustees range from Ken Plunk, CEO of the largest bank in the state, Union Planters of Memphis, down to many community bank officers,
Such a program gives community bankers the breadth of training-in investments, loans, regulation, human resources, you name it-to honestly claim that their banks are the only ones that people in their town need.
And bankers in large banks like Mr. Plunk's recognize that if their people do not see what community bankers are learning, they will never be prepared to provide the breadth and flexibility needed to keep people from moving their business to community institutions.