If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times

Wriston, Walter B.




Over the past several years, Walter B. Wriston, chairman and chief executive officer of Citibank and Citicorp, which together comprise one of the world's leading financial institutions, has made it a practice to visit with groups of college students. Instead of delivering prepared speeches, Mr. Wriston fielded whatever questions the young men and women threw out. This book, derived from the informal give-and-take of those sessions, has been edited only to smooth out the rough-gaitedness of spoken language and avoid repetition.

In unbankerlike measure, Mr. Wriston takes dead aim at a number of things going on in today's world and deflates them with a scalpel-sharp quip. What he has to say will infuriate some, shock others, and delight those who enjoy a slightly iconoclastic view of things. But Mr. Wriston says it better:

Why do you go around and talk with the kids?

Simple. First, because they ask me. Second, because the world is won or lost in the arena of ideas. Coming out of colleges will be an idea that ten years from now could be the law of the land. This always happens because ideas are powerful, because they can and do change the world.

In my company, for instance, we publish a little book ourselves every eighteen months or so. The first one was on the adequacy of bank capital. It isn't for the layman. But there wasn't anybody in the business schools or among the regulators who had the faintest handle on the subject either, even though that's their business. Their idea of bank capital was very simple--lots more. And we'd say, "What're the criteria?" "We don't know," they'd answer. Our book in that subject provided an answer. You can argue with it, but the point is you now have something to argue with.

Another book we did on growing competition in the financial marketplace shows that Sears, Roebuck has more consumer accounts receivable than all the personal loans of all the banks in New York and Chicago put together. That fact got people's attention. It was also the first time that politicians and journalists knew there were 600 million credit cards in the United States and that only 15 percent of them were issued by banks. They were beating us up for forcing credit on the consumer, and we weren't even the prime factor.

So, we look for good ideas--new ideas--in our shop, outside, on campuses, anywhere. When we find good ideas we push them, well researched and reasoned, in the marketplace. After five or six years even a good idea begins to make an impact. Somebody's got to make an impact. There's a lot out there that needs fixing.

  • The document was created from a compilation of interviews and question and answer segments with Walter B. Wriston which was later compiled into "If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times" in 1980. The original speech is located in MS134.001.034.00018.
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 Title Page
If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
I: Getting Down to Fundamentals
The Big Cop-out
You Can't Go Bail for Everyone
Risk Is What It's All About
II: Some Basic Ills of the Body Politic
Lincoln Wouldn't Have Made It
Unpredictable Is a Dangerous Country
The Pitfalls of Single-issue Politics
Expect To Get Zapped
The Perils of Legal Pollution
The Injustice of Our Tax System
Those Wonderful People Who Bring You Inflation
Stop the Presses
Silly Premises Lead to Nutty Conclusions
Easier Said Than Done
III: New York, New York
New York City Is Alive And Well
The Road Back
IV: Careers
Rx for Happiness
Good Forward Planning
Dull Job?
A Simple Matter of Survival
Making It at Citibank
What Fast Track?
No Hiding Place
V: Once Around the World Quickly
South Africa
China: A Matter of Timing
The Real Significance of Iran
Iran and the Money Markets
Fashions in Country-criticizing
VI: The Global Financial Scene
The Elusive Eurodollar
De Facto Payments Mechanism
Too Big To Move
The Foreign Exchange Game
They Can't Leave the System
Baskets of Money
Swiss Francs
The Value of a Dollar
Not a Loss Since 1897
A Rational View of LDC Loans
Free Trade Benefits Consumers
The Destructive Costs of Regulation
The Big Rip-off
A Real Entitlement
Can Regulations Prevent Bum Loans?
The Insidious Side of Controls
Competition in Regulation
VIII: The Shape of Things To Come
Not As Big As You Think
What Lobby?
Armageddon Is Late, as Usual
Some Simple Facts about Interest Rates
An Expensive Luxury
How Big Is Big?
What We Did Yesterday Won't Work Tomorrow
A Matter of Semantics
Unpredictable Is a Dangerous Country
Privacy: A Serious Problem
The Unseen Revolution
Things Are Going To Be Different
Take the Handcuffs off Everybody
The Gray Areas of Lending
No Mouse under the Rug
Thank God We Don't Have National Banking
Competition Keeps You Awake
Accounting for Loan Losses
Not a Utility
People Like It
Computer Frauds
Some Final Words on Responsibility
About the Author