The secret of high finance in the American banking industry: It's the caramel corn

Janet's World

October 21, 2007|By Janet Gilbert

I can proudly state that I now know a considerable amount about the savings and loan industry in Baltimore.

"Please," I can hear you readers fervently praying, "let us in on some of the complex issues facing the finance industry today. And then wake us up!"

For the past six months or so, I have been writing the 100-year history of a truly unique savings and loan association in Baltimore, Eladesor Laredef; its name has naturally been spelled backwards for privacy protection. But I am not going to tell you much about this venerable institution, because that would spoil the book. And who knows, you may wish to recommend this book for your book club, especially if your group would like a refreshing change of pace from the plot twists, violence, dialogue, sex and page-turning intrigue of most popular novels.

But this is not to say that this book about Eladesor is a dull read. Consider this: Much of what I write about in this column every week might seem hopelessly mundane to the untrained, non-Janet's World eye - an eye that is keen for drama. And there has been a surfeit of drama in the savings and loan industry here in Maryland over the past century.

Suffice it to say that I have come to appreciate a bank whose directors would regard my money - no matter how significant or paltry the sum - like it's the money of their own family members. I like a bank that doesn't have to post wordy mission or vision statements all over the office because employees already know what to do, and it's really quite simple: the right thing. Most of all, I like a bank whose employees on the second floor provide a nice table of delicious candies and caramel popcorn that they insist I help myself to when I'm on site doing research in the minutes of their board meetings.

It would be safe to say that as the book has grown, so have I - a little over a pound per 25 pages. I can only hope that my next writing assignment is for Jenny Craig.

But I have also grown in appreciation for any business that takes the time to know and value its customers. I happen to believe there is an inverse relationship between our explosive, 21st-century ability to connect to events and people all over the world and our sense of belonging in our own communities. If I were to express this succinctly in mathematical terms, I would write: I was an English major. But my point is, we have an increasing need to be known as individuals today.

At my megabank, "First National Flag-Waving Savings of America," I don't really have a banker, just an ATM machine I nicknamed "Bill." I do a lot of business with Bill, but I've come to the sorry conclusion that he is never going to print out an investment idea just for me on my receipt. To Bill, I'm just another PIN. But that's OK because Bill is doing a heck of a job, I've learned, in keeping me safe.

Post 9/11, banks of all sizes are required by law to be vigilant in the fight against terrorism. It makes sense that if some financial transactions seem a little shady, banks are likely to be the first to shed light on the situation. But this requires a tremendous amount of effort.

So I think we should all go into our banks today, and surprise a teller with a little note of thanks. No, let us rethink that delivery mechanism. But perhaps we should thank our banking representative personally, not only for keeping our money safe, but for working to keep us safe as well.

I'm going to drive through and thank Bill this afternoon. Maybe, for once, he'll dispense my cash and pay me some attention.

Contact Janet at janet@janetgilbertonline.com

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