Our latest contest to select a president for a day of our Schmidlap National Bank was unusual in several ways.
The problem: I had advised a young man to leave banking. He was not driven - had no fire in the belly. But he did like his job.
He wondered, though, whether there was a future for him in bank lending in an era of computerized risk management, credit scoring, and less demand for lending officers unwilling to make a bank their be-all and end-all.
I also suggested that a master's degree in business administration would not be his magic carpet unless he were willing to give much more of himself to the organization. So I concluded that he really didn't have a future in banking, and should try to become the financial officer of a nonfinancial company or to join a consulting company that would motivate him more.
Responses to this problem were unusual, in number and provocativeness, and fell on both sides of the issue.
Consider, for example, the letter from Denise M. Renaghan, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Bay State Federal Savings Bank of Brookline, Mass.
"With all due respect, you went too far," she wrote. "You are wrong and very pessimistic - not unlike a lot of 'seasoned' bankers. I have heard you speak many times, but maybe now you should listen!
"Your young friend was 'happy' making calls; he 'loves' banking. Why are you 'sad?' Unfortunately, your years of screaming at bank executives have taken their toll.
"Banking is a flourishing, changing environment, and one of the few industries that will survive the Net. Our society will always require financial services; they will simply be delivered in different media."
Or look at the response of Peter Q. Davis, chief executive officer of Bank of Commerce, San Diego.
"Your advice to this young man was off the mark.
"Who makes the best bankers? Well, with all due respect to your vocation, education is not the sole or perhaps even the most important element, in my opinion, or in my case."
Obviously, many readers felt my remarks were too pessimistic about banking, so they wrote to disabuse me and other readers of this opinion.
Take, for example, the responses of my old friend Ken Guenther, chief executive officer of the Independent Bankers Association of America.
"Did you discourage the young man from going into banking because he couldn't cut the mustard at a quality school offering MBAs and because you are pessimistic about banking?
"I continue to see the best and brightest in community banking, which continues to require energy, intelligence, and an entrepreneurial flair. And we all know that there are no secure, lifetime careers anymore.
"So, yes, by denigrating banking as a career while discouraging further education - you went too far."
Of course, there were pessimistic responses. One bank senior vice president, who asked to remain nameless, admitted she is leaving her bank as "the advances in banking technology have made the interaction with the customer less necessary. Also, I don't see the opportunities to gain the emotional reward and intellectual challenge that I need from a job."
But James J. Segars of Atlanta added his dark evaluation of banking opportunities.
"I sense that you feel almost ashamed that you have given the young man the wisdom and counsel that he was seeking when the truth was painful. However, the medicine you prescribed is the self-same medicine that I have been prescribing for years.
"While it is true that there will be jobs in banking in the years to come, the average person must be realistic and ask: 'If 50% of the jobs globally will disappear in 10 years, how can I be sure that I am one of the two who will stay? Further, what kind of job will survive, and do I want to do that for the rest of my working career?'
So far, then the responses have been on both sides of the "stay or leave" issue. We will have to look at what readers suggest can make our banker both happy and effective before we can announce the contest winner next week.
Mr. Nadler is a contributing editor of the American Banker and professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.