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

Wriston, Walter B.


"Thank God We Don't Have National Banking"


With so many piecemeal changes happening in banking, how come we don't rationalize the situation?

Because I come from a funny industry. We all stand up and say, "Thank God we don't have national banking!" Then I go down to the corner of Broad and Wall streets in New York City, and I see a big building there that says "Bank of America." There's one like it in California that says "Citicorp." There are five coast-to-coast electronic funds transfer systems up and running. So, what's all this nonsense about when are we going to get national banking? We've got it.

VISA is a national bank and it's running flat out. They made a great breakthrough recently. They got J.C. Penney to take VISA in their seventeen hundred stores, and that's the ball game.

Sears is trying to sell its twenty-six million credit-card holders commercial paper[31]  at 10 percent for six months through their credit cards. People who can't spell [32]  are going to find out what it is.

The whole competitive structure is so ridiculous, that every banker who goes to a Rotary Club to talk about free enterprise, ends up adding in parenthesis (except for me).

People think of a bank as a building with a name carved over the door. But a bank today is a plastic card. The delivery system for banking is a plastic card. With our Citicard in New York, right now you can do most of your banking twenty-four hours a day. We've got fifty million transactions a year going out there. The idea that a bank is a building is obsolete.

The technology's way ahead of the regulators, as usual.


[31] Promissory notes issued by companies in lieu of bank loans. Because commercial paper is not secured by tangible collateral only large, well established companies can sell them.

[32] The flow of savings out of banks and savings institutions which have interest ceilings fixed by law into commercial paper and other investment instruments offering higher interest rates.

  • 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