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

Wriston, Walter B.


About the Author


Walter B. Wriston graduated from Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Following a brief stint in the State Department, he served four years in the army during World War Two. He has been with Citibank ever since.

Just to wind things up could you just describe your career within the bank and--

I came to Citibank by accident and stayed through inertia.

Specifically, what accident?

Well, my mother died and I was called home from the army. My wife was teaching school in New York and couldn't leave in the middle of the school year. So, I postponed returning to the foreign service and took a temporary job in the Citibank. Very scientific planning. Having no training in finance or economics or accounting, I was naturally made an auditor and put in the Controller's Department. I did that for five years.

Then I moved into the credit side and worked there for awhile. That was a deliberate move--but not mine. One of the most remarkable men the bank ever had, Buzz Cuyler, picked me up and put me there.

One day they decided to expand the national banking division, and the head of that called for all the personnel files of the college training class and picked mine out of a hat. He said, "How would you like to cover the Middle West?" Well, I grew up there, so I said, "That's fine." So I was there for awhile.

Then they needed somebody to start up the specialized industries lending, and I got assigned over there. Shipping, trucking, airlines, railways.

One day they called me up and said, "We've got two branches in Europe. How would you like to go run those?" How they lighted on me for that job, I wouldn't know. But I went and eventually headed all the international business.

Then on to my current job. Very scientific! For most of us, our lives are a series of accidents. When we get old enough, we write a book explaining to our children how we planned it that way.

  • 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