My favorite story in this regard is of the old-timer with the very young wife.

"How did you get a woman of 26 to marry an old geezer of 67?" the man is asked.

His reply: "I told her I was 77."

But to many young bankers today, seasoning has no value whatsoever.

These baby boomers feel they live in a new world where their training and intelligence allows them to avoid the mistakes of prior generations.

We have seen this before.

In the mid 1980s, another new generation rose to power in the banking industry. They looked around, saw someone like old man Gridley, and viewed his 40 years in the business as just one year's experience repeated 40 times.

"You don't remember the Depression," Gridley would moan. "You can always lend money. The job is getting it back."

This annoyed the new leaders.

"Outta my office, Gridley," they would scream, ending the moaning but also hastening the exit of such savvy bankers from the industry.

But what happened? As the banking industry suffered its greatest collapse since the Great Depression Gridley referred to, the new leaders became bewildered. What to do?

So the next thing you heard was the phone ringing at Gridley's golf course: "Can you come over on Wednesday afternoons for loan policy meetings?"

Where did the banks in the '80s go wrong?

As Charles N. Cranmer, director of equity research for M.A. Schapiro & Co., recently pointed out in his periodic analysis letter, those borrowers who were in trouble simply borrowed more to cover their repayments and interest. So banks would lend money out to customers who used it to remain current. The banks would then count the interest they received as solid income, when really all they were doing was taking back their own recent money flows as a source of revenue, with nice fees for the new loans thrown in to boot.

No wonder that Real Estate Investment Trusts that lent 100% of the cost of construction on the project, plus enough extra to cover two years' interest, found that the borrowers remained current for two years before they defaulted and - in some cases - brought the REIT down with them.

Are things different today?

Well, as Mr. Cranmer points out, look at credit cards.

How do so many people remain current despite credit card debts that vastly exceed their annual income?

They have multiple cards, with offers of new ones arriving with each day's mail and each evening's cold calls.

They pay one with the other and so forth, until they just cannot push it any further. Then they declare personal bankruptcy, which is no longer the stigma it used to be. In fact, going bankrupt in today's world doesn't seem to end the flow of card offers.

Recent comments indicate that banks are surprised that so many creditors no longer follow the familiar pattern of delaying payments, asking for extensions and then going under. Rather they make full payment right up to the day they give up and head for bankruptcy court.

The reason: They become credit card surfers - borrowing from one bank at its low introductory rate to pay back the other whose low teaser rate period has now ended. They keep this up until they can't get any more cards and then dump the entire debt.

Some feel their next step will be to write all the banks, "Why not settle these debts among yourselves and stop bothering me."

On top of this, Mr. Cranmer points out:

"Sometimes it seems as though the credit scoring models make credit decisions for every bank in the country. But if there is a flaw in these models, this flaw may have already replicated itself like a virus throughout the whole industry. Moreover it is possible to tweak these models to generate the volume growth one wants."

So maybe there is another reason why community banks do so well: they still have a few gray-haired people around who are not ashamed of having gray hair.

As those hastened into retirement by the new generation of know-it-alls stand on the sidelines watching credit card and home equity loan losses mount and mount, I'd advise them not to book too many golf games. For they, too, may find the phone ringing to see if they can spare Wednesday afternoons for loan policy meetings.

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