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

Wriston, Walter B.


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You've invested very heavily in technology for an electronic network. Other New York banks say there's not going to be much profit in it and they want out. Would you care to comment?

That's what makes horse races. We think the facts are on our side. The traditional delivery of consumer services by banks is lousy. It's very poorly done at hours that are inconvenient. Customers stand in long lines on their lunch hour.

On the other side, there wasn't a single bank in New York last year that made a dollar on its New York branch system if they weighed in all the costs. If you take the checking account funds deposited by consumers and lend it out in a 12 percent environment, you can make a few dollars on your branch system. But real estate taxes keep going up, salaries always tend to climb, fringe benefits go up and the market is extremely competitive.

So, five years ago we had a choice--do we get out of the consumer business like Bankers Trust is doing? Or do we accept our responsibility to the consumer and hang in there? We decided to stay in--and we did. We spent $160 million to build our network. The banks that don't have it, that didn't spend it, say it won't work, but our share of the market is increasing. People like it.

We only have to pick up another 1 or 2 percent of the market to earn back the whole $160 million. We expect to get it. We could be wrong, but the numbers so far look pretty good. That's what business is all about, taking risks and finding out.

  • 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