Reading American Banker is a daily ritual for me; American Banker is an invaluable daily compilation of news and opinions about our industry and one I've come to enjoy and depend upon through the years. I was especially interested in the Analyst Roundtable discussion in the May 31 issue. I got some new insights reading the participants' views concerning the many moving parts of the "real" economy and their perspectives on the financial services industry. I didn't agree with everything, but then that's the point of a roundtable discussion, isn't it?
For example, a sidebar headlined "Be a Banker? Perish the Thought" [titled "She's Your Daughter. Do You Want Her to Become a Banker?" online] supported the continuing rhetoric that banking is not an admirable profession. We are long overdue for a defense of this important and vital vocation.
Perish the thought that intelligent, hard-working, decent men and women turn away from banking as a satisfying and meaningful career. There's no better time than right now for young people (or anyone) to come into this industry and be on the forefront of historic change — a monumental attempt to make the global financial industry a more stable, profitable, and an appropriately risk-managed force for economic development, open commerce, technological advances and individual success.
Ongoing and repeated negative sentiment about the banking profession perpetuates the inaccurate beliefs that cause far too many to question our role as trusted advisors and honest brokers in Americans' lives. It is well known that a) citizens feel poorly toward the banking "industry," b) feel more positively toward their bank, and c) actually like and respect their banker. If we can create the confidence that bankers are great partners — working for institutions that serve an important role in each community, in an industry that is well-positioned to help guide economic recovery — we can "begin" the long journey to re-build the reputation of this critical partnership.
Let's be clear: banking is so much more than complicated, provocative and confusing financial products. According to American Banker, at year-end 2010, well over two million people were employed by the many banking companies in the United States. Two million people who approve small business loans, make investments in alternative energy companies, help corporations expand and create new jobs, volunteer in their communities, and make it possible to build affordable housing for seniors. Two million bankers who help people save and invest and prepare for college educations and comfortable retirements, and provide the financial tools people and businesses need every day. Two million leaders who are proud of what they do and proud they help make dreams come true. That's what "real" bankers do — and it's worth doing.
It is time that we stop supporting the criticism that the entire banking industry was solely responsible for the current economic downturn. The fact is only a small number of individuals were responsible for some of the questionable activities that ignited the economic meltdown. It is also time that we start defending our banking profession, the hard-working bankers and the contributions of our industry.
Despite the merciless beating every banker has taken in the press, in the halls of Congress and on the streets of our communities, our reputation has been sullied in part because we have not provided a compelling message in support of the valuable banking activities that keep America strong, money flowing, businesses growing, and communities healthy. The banking industry will prove to be one of the most critical catalysts in the pending recovery of our great nation.
The Analyst Roundtable question of the day in the May 31 article was "What is the real economy?"
I would ask, "What is real banking?" Except in a very small sliver of the real world, real banking is not multi-million transactions, aggressive tactics and indecipherable new methods of making a financial killing. Real banking is still a career choice and a profession in which the best and the smartest, as well as the most positive and principled, can make a real difference in their communities and in their country — all the while knowing that what they do matters where it counts most. We should very proud to be bankers — and encourage a new generation to follow our lead.
Be a banker? Cherish the thought!
Chairman, CEO and president