Wisdom implies prudence and discretion, and these should regulate the whole conduct of a banker, not merely when engaged in banking transactions, but at all other times. We may apply to a banker the language we have elsewhere applied to a merchant:
"The amusements of a merchant should correspond with his character. He should never engage in those recreations which partake of the nature of gambling, and but seldom in those of a frivolous description. A judge is not always on the bench, a clergyman is not always in the pulpit, nor is a merchant always on 'Change; but each is expected at all times to abstain from any amusements which are not consistent with his professional character. The credit of a merchant depends not merely on his wealth, but also upon the opinion generally entertained of his personal qualities; and he should cultivate a reputation for prudence and propriety of conduct, as part of his stock in trade." l
A banker should have a talent for selecting suitable instruments. He ought not only to know himself, he ought also to have a capacity for judging of others. He should know how to choose proper clerks for the discharge of the duties of the office. He should know also what parties to employ to procure him confidential information as to the character and circumstances of commercial houses, or of individuals. He should know how to choose his partners or coadjutors, and should endeavour to select those who possess qualifications in which he is himself deficient. In all cases when he has any object to effect he should know how to make use of other men. We may here, as in some other cases, apply to a banker the observations Mr. Taylor applies to a statesman:
"The most important qualification of one who is high in the service of the State, is his fitness for acting through others, since the operations vicariously effected ought, if he knows how to make use of his power, to predominate greatly over the importance which can attach to any man's direct and individual activity."2
A neglect of this rule has occurred in the history of some joint-stock banks, where the manager has impaired his own health, and damaged his bank, by taking upon himself a vast variety of duties which should have been assigned to others; forgetful that in large establishments the chief officer should confine his personal attention to those duties which are intellectual, or which are of the chief importance; while the duties which are of a mere manual, or less important character, should be performed through the instrumentality of assistants.
1 Lectures on the History and Principles of Ancient Commerce. By J. W. Gilbart.
2 Taylor's Statesman.
A banker should know how to economize his own time. One mode of doing this will be, as we have intimated, to assign inferior duties to others. His accountant should keep his books, and make his calculations. His secretary should write his letters (except those of a private or confidential nature), and he should only sign them. His chief clerk should attend to the discipline of the office. A banker at the head of a large establishment should not only be acquainted with the art of banking - he ought also to be acquainted with the art of government. He ought to put a clever man at the head of each department, and reserve to himself only the duty of general superintendence. He should give these parties a pretty wide discretion, and not encourage them to ask his instructions about matters of comparatively trifling importance. If he does this, they will never learn to think for themselves, - never feel that wholesome anxiety which results from a sense of responsibility, - and never acquire that decision of mind which arises from the necessity of forming an independent judgment. Consequently, they will be less useful to him in their present position, and never become qualified for higher offices.
Another mode of economizing time is to observe a principle of order. A banker should come to the bank every day at the same hour; attend to his affairs, one by one, in the same order, and leave the bank at his usual time. By observing this routine, he will not only save much time, but he will avoid tumultuous feelings, and maintain a calmness of mind and of manner, that will be useful in all his affairs. He will also acquire from habit a coolness of investigation, and a promptness of decision; and he will get through a great deal of work without ever appearing to be in a hurry.
Another mode of economizing time is, to make his interviews with his customers, or with other parties, as short as he can. He should not encourage conversation upon any other topic than that which is the occasion of the interview. He had better receive his customers standing; as in that case they will stand too, and are not likely to remain so long as if they were to sit down. And the furniture of the room should be so arranged that the customer, if he sit down, should sit near the door, so that he may depart whenever disposed. He is not likely to remain so long as if seated comfortably by the fire-side. It is also desirable that his room should be so placed, with reference to the other parts of the building, that while it has one door open to the public, it should have another door opening into the office; so that he may easily pass into the office, to ascertain the state of a customer's account, or to consult with himself or another person, in doubtful cases, as to the course to be adopted. It is not advisable that the customer who applies, for instance, to have a heavy bill discounted, should witness the hesitation or the deliberation of the banker. Hence it is better, when it can be done, to establish the practice of the customer giving the bills to a clerk, who shall bring them into the banker's room, and take back his reply.
A banker will take means for obtaining and recording information. He should not, as we have said, keep any books himself. But he ought always to have in his room, ready for immediate reference, if necessary, "the General Balance Book," containing the weekly balances of the general ledger, which will show the weekly progress of his business for several years past, - "the Daily Balance Book," showing the daily balance to the credit of each of his customers in the current-account ledger, - "the Weekly Discount Balance Book," showing the amount of discounts, loans, or other advances which each customer has every Saturday night, - "the Inspection Book," showing the amount of bills bearing the names of houses who do not keep an account with him, - "the Information Book," containing the character of all the houses about whom he has had occasion to make inquiries, - and, finally, "a Private Memorandum Book," in which is entered any special agreements that he has made with his customers. It is also useful to a banker to have a list of his customers, classified according to their trades or professions - such as corn merchants, leather factors, grocers, solicitors, etc, etc. The banker would thus see at a glance among what classes of society his connections lie. When any public event was likely to affect any class - such, for instance, as the corn merchants - he would see how many of his customers are likely to be affected. By thus, too, bearing in mind the trade or profession of his customers, he would be able to judge more readily whether the bills they brought him for discount had arisen out of their business transactions.