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

Wriston, Walter B.


Some Final Words on Responsibility


I have a question about responsibility. What do you perceive as Citibank's obligations to society?

The responsibilities of any corporation in today's world are substantial. Our main one at a macro level, is to keep the system going. The official agencies and the central banks can't do it by themselves.

To give you an idea of the scope of the bank's responsibility, when the OPEC embargo hit in 1973, never before in the history of the world were so many financial assets transferred so fast to so many places with so few casualties. It was just unbelievable. The "think" magazines all said that the market couldn't handle it. I believe Citibank was the only one to stand up and say, "The market will handle it." And it did.

Number two: I think we have a responsibility to the community where our people live and work, whether that's in London or Jakarta or New York City.

In most countries, we run a big urban affairs program. In New York during the fiscal crisis either my partner, Bill Spencer, or I worked on the City's problems every weekend for nearly two years. In fact, I spent most of last night on the same subject--rehabilitating New York City's finances. We're over the hump. New York's a great city; it shouldn't go down.

We also have the social problems of affirmative action. We have a vice-president and his staff devoting full time to urban problems. I don't say we're making big progress. We're not. But we're leaning on the margin and exerting a little weight.

Another aspect is whether we have the right, let alone the responsibility, to take a public position on a public issue--the so-called freedom of speech of a corporation. I happen to believe strongly that we do have that right and . Our officers speak out freely. One day I was saying in London that it was crazy to go back on the gold standard. The chief of our foreign economics department was making a speech in New York the same day saying the gold standard was the only way to go. So we have a very loose society--a democracy in our shop--and that's the way I like it.

But I think that to carry out our social responsibilities, we have to get involved in the political process. That's not easy to do because businessmen do not like to take positions. We have no right to cry, if we don't get down and fight. We'll lose some--I've lost a lot of them--but we can't win any until we get involved.

  • 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