TO be a good banker requires some intellectual and some moral qualifications. A banker need not be a man of talent, but he should be a man of wisdom. Talent, in the sense in which the word is ordinarily used, implies a strong development of: some one faculty of the mind. Wisdom implies the due proportion of all the faculties. A banker need not be a poet or a philosopher - a man of science or of literature - an orator or a statesman. He need not possess any one remarkable quality by which he may be distinguished from the rest of mankind. It is only necessary that he should possess a large portion of that practical quality which is called common sense. Banking talent (using the word talent here in the sense of adaptation of character to any particular pursuit) consists more in the union of a number of qualities, not in themselves individually of a striking character, but rare only in their combination in the same person. It is a mistake to suppose that banking is such a routine employment that it requires neither knowledge nor skill. The number of banks that have failed within the last fifty years are sufficient to show, that to be a good banker requires qualities as rare and as important as those which are necessary to attain eminence in any other pursuit. The dealer in money exercises intellectual faculties of a high order, and of great value to the community. His profession has a powerful bearing on the practical happiness of mankind.
"The philosophy which affects to teach us a contempt of money, does not run very deep; for, indeed, it ought to be still more clear to the philosopher than it is to the ordinary man, that there are few things in the world of greater importance. And so manifold are the bearings of money upon the lives and characters of mankind, that an insight which should search out the life of a man in his pecuniary relations, would penetrate into almost every cranny of his nature. He who knows, like St. Paul, both how to spare and how to abound, has a great knowledge: for if we take account of all the virtues with which money is mixed up - honesty, justice, generosity, charity, frugality, forethought, self-sacrifice, - and of their correlative vices - it is a knowledge which goes near to cover the length and breadth of humanity: and a right measure and manner in getting, saving, spending, giving, taking, lending, borrowing, and bequeathing, would almost argue a perfect man."1
But though wisdom - or, in other words, a high degree of common sense - does not imply the possession of any remarkable talent (the undue development of any one faculty), it always implies the absence of any remarkable defect. One great defect in a banker is a want of decision. A banker ought to know how to balance the evidence on each side of a question, and to arrive speedily at a just conclusion.
"Indecisiveness will be, cceteris paribus, most pernicious in affairs which require secrecy. 1st, Because the greatest aid to secrecy is celerity. 2nd, Because the undecided man, seeking after various counsel, necessarily multiplies confidences. The pretext for indecisiveness is commonly mature deliberation; but, in reality, indecisive men occupy themselves less in deliberation than others; for to him who fears to decide, deliberation (which has a foretaste of that fear) soon becomes intolerably irksome, and the mind escapes from the anxiety of it into alien themes. Or, if that seems too open a dereliction of its task, it gives itself to inventing reasons of postponement. And the man who has confirmed habits of indecisiveness, will come in time to look upon postponement as the first object in all cases, and wherever it seems to be practicable, will bend all his faculties to accomplish it." 1
1 Notes from Life: in six Essays. By Henry Taylor.
Another defect is a want of firmness. A banker having, after a mature consideration, made up his mind, should be capable of a strict adherence to his previous determination: he should know when to say, No; and having once said No, he should adhere to it. Another defect is a hasty or impetuous temper. Another is that of being swayed by any personal or constitutional prepossession. Almost every man has a sin by which he is most easily beset; a constitutional defect, against which it is necessary he should be upon his guard.
It is a great advantage to a banker, and indeed to every one else, to know himself. He should know wherein he excels, and wherein he is deficient. He ought to know whether he is disposed from his temperament to be excessively cautious, or excessively liberal - whether his manners are courteous or abrupt - whether he is apt to view matters on their gloomy or on their bright side - whether social intercourse renders him more or less fit for his official engagements - whether the presents and civilities he receives from his customers do, or do not, affect his transactions with them in matters of business. When he has made a loss, he should examine whether the loss was occasioned by the ordinary operation of events, or produced by any little weaknesses of his own character. He should record all those instances in which he has shown a want of firmness, of discretion, of discrimination, or of perseverance; and should guard in future against the exhibition of any similar defect:
1 Taylor's Statesman. I would advise all bankers, and all other persons at the head of large establishments, to read this little work.
"Man, know thyself; all wisdom centres there."
But while a banker should make himself acquainted with his own defects, he ought not to let his customers become acquainted with them. All wise men know their own defects; none but fools publish them. Crafty men, who often have occasion to borrow money, are quick in perceiving the weaknesses of their banker. And if they find that by coaxing, or flattering, or gossiping, or bribing, or threatening, they can influence his conduct, he will always be at their mercy. On this account it is, perhaps, advisable that a banker should not have too much social intercourse with those of his customers who have occasion to ask him for any large amount of accommodation.