Indulge me a little this week. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with one of my law school classmates (we graduated over 50 years ago), and we reminisced about how things used to be. When we were children, we rode our bicycles all over town, and our folks never worried about us. Our games were kick-the-can and hide and seek. Later, we graduated to football, baseball and basketball. Now, I see my grandchildren curled up on the couch for hours with a video game, and I worry about it.
When I began practicing law, every attorney in the firm had his or her own personal secretary. When I wanted to create a letter or a document, I would dictate it to my secretary, and she would take her dictation to her typewriter, put in the sufficient number of carbon copies and then type the letter. Today, I doubt that they even teach dictation or that you can buy a typewriter or carbon paper or liquid whiteout. I remember when our firm got its first copy machine. Our secretaries thought they had gone to heaven.
A large part of my law practice was commercial real estate sales and acquisitions and financing. Frequently, the counter party and its attorney was in New York City. This was long before fax machines and the internet (which the latter was not created by Al Gore). Correspondence was a problem because even airmail usually took three days. To solve the problem, when I had a document that I needed to send to New York, our firm’s runner would go to the airport, find a steward or stewardess on a flight headed there and pay him or her $20 to deliver the document on the other end. Then, I would call the other attorney, give him the flight number and the name of the courier and he would have someone meet the flight and pick it up. The airlines finally figured out that their personnel were becoming wealthy so they started their package services, which ultimately spawned Fed Ex and UPS.
Then, there was the issue of personal communication. There was no iPhone or iWatch or email or text messages or Facebook or Twitter. We didn’t have instant access, no matter where we were, to virtually all of the world’s knowledge. When I was a kid, one of our neighbors had a big railroad train bell mounted in their back yard. When Mrs. Courtier rang the bell, everyone knew it was six o’clock and time to go home for dinner. I have a good friend of mine that is married to his telephone. He was my partner in a golf tournament recently, and he spent half of his time on the phone. Finally, I told him, “Either play golf or go home, but if you don’t quit talking on the phone, I am going to throw it in the lake.” He looked at me and said, “You are serious aren’t you?” And I said, “Dead serious.” I am confident he didn’t realize what a security blanket his cell phone had become to him.
Where we are going is beyond most people’s imagination. Consider cell phone progress alone – from the initial, two-pound, foot long device to today’s micro cell phones, which are more like mini-computers. Someone has even invented a contact lens that can record videos. I can’t comprehend digital cash, but I know it is either here or over the next horizon.
What this means for a financial institution’s management team is that they must keep abreast of the latest technology because their customers certainly will, and they will demand it. Technology is going to become more important to every financial institution and will command a greater part of their budgets. On the other hand, completely to the contrary, I think the bank or credit union branch is going to remain as important as it is today. I disagree with those who say that someday all banks will be virtual facilities. I think that there is an inherent need in all of us for personal contact. Society is becoming more impersonal, and I think that those organizations that emphasize a warm personal contact with their customers will be more successful than those that do not, regardless of the proficiency of their technology.
Only time will tell, but it will be exciting and interesting.