1 " Lectures on Ancient Commerce," by J. W. Gilbart.
Among the means of training clerks for superior offices, we should give a high rank to the formation of a library of banking books, to which the whole of the establishment should at all times have access. The remarks we made in a letter addressed to the manager of a country bank, in the year 1846, and which was afterwards published in the "Banker's Magazine," are, we think,not inapplicable to this subject :-
"I wish you would advise your directors to celebrate their success by sending to each of their branches monthly a copy of the 'Banker's Magazine.' I am sure this would be a profitable investment of some portion of your surplus funds, and would yield an ample return in the results arising from the increased knowledge and skill of your managers. Here they will learn points of law and of practice, with which they were previously unacquainted, and be better prepared to deal with such cases when they occur in their own experience. It seems peculiarly necessary that managers of branches, who have not the opportunity of immediately consulting with any of the directors, should be supplied by the bank with the means of obtaining this kind of information. Losses are sometimes incurred by joint-stock banks through the want of knowledge of a little banking law on the part of their principal officers. The managers would not be the only gainers. The other officers of the branches would have the opportunity of self-improvement, and thus routine clerks might become intelligent bankers, and you would train in your own establishment a constant supply of able men to take the places, when necessary, of the existing managers. It is one of the excellences of our system, that the junior clerks may look forward to being placed at the head of the establishment; but this can only take place in those instances wherein the clerks endeavour to acquire that professional and general knowledge which is necessary in the present day, in order to discharge the duties and maintain the position of a manager. Unless they do this, those who are now clerks will remain clerks as long as they live, and the next generation of managers will be taken from the more instructed classes of society."
The manager of a joint-stock bank in the midland counties informs us that his directors recently voted £100 towards the formation of a bank library. To the directors of other banks we would say, "Go and do likewise."l
In training clerks for intellectual offices, it is advisable not to give them too many instructions with regard to minute details. They should be taught to think for themselves. A man's talents are never brought out until he is thrown, to some extent, upon his own resources. If in every difficulty he has only to run to his principal, and then implicitly obey the directions he may receive, he will never acquire that aptitude of perception, and that promptness of decision, and that firmness of purpose, which are essentially necessary to those who hold important and responsible offices. Young men who are backward in this respect should be entrusted at first with some inferior matters, with permission to act according to their discretion. If they act rightly, they should be commended; if otherwise, they should not be censured, but instructed. A fear of incurring censure-a dread of responsibility-has a very depressing effect upon the exercise of the mental faculties. A certain degree of independent feeling is essential to the full development of the intellectual character. It should be the object of a banker to encourage this feeling in his superior officers. Those hankers who extend their commands to the minutest details of the office, exacting the most rigid obedience in matters the most trivial, harshly censuring their clerks when they do wrong, and never commending them when they do right, may themselves he very clever men, but they do not go the way to get clever assistants. At the same time, they exhaust their own physical and mental powers by attending to matters which could be managed equally well by men of inferior talent.
1 In the year 1850 a Literary Association was formed by the clerks of the Bank of England. The directors assigned three rooms within the Bank for a Library, a Beading-room, and a Lecture-room, and gave £500 towards the funds. Several of the directors individually presented also handsome donations of both money and books.
After a clerk has become a manager, his education has yet to be completed. Lord Bacon observes, that reading makes a wise man; writing an exact man; and conversation a ready man. "Whatever knowledge he may have acquired by reading or otherwise-however exact he may have been in the discipline of the office-the young manager has yet to become a ready man. He has to apply his knowledge promptly and independently, and, at the same time, wisely. This habit he will acquire by time. The exercise of authority over other men produces an independence of mind which is friendly to the maturing of the understanding; while the necessity for giving immediate decisions in conversation with his customers will have a tendency to produce promptness of judgment. There is no profession in which experience is more useful than in banking. But it is useful, not so much in the amount of knowledge that is acquired (though that is important), as in the improvement it imparts to those intellectual faculties which are called into exercise. It is by constant practice that these faculties gather strength. Habits are formed by repeated acts, and they can be formed in no other way.
Before closing this section on the administration of the office, we may observe, that although the duties of a chief clerk are quite distinct from those of a banker, yet in small establishments they are often performed by the same person. In branch banks, generally, the manager is both the banker and the chief clerk. But as the branch increases, the manager will gradually transfer to the second officer the duties of the chief clerk, and confine his own attention to those of a banker. It is too much the practice in England to view a bank manager as holding the same relative position in a joint-stock bank which a chief clerk does in a private bank. This is an error. A manager is not a banker's clerk-he is a banker. And although he may reserve some important cases for the consideration of his directors, yet they are usually such cases as a private banker would reserve for consultation with his partners, or on which, had he no partners, he would take time to form his own determination.
It may also be observed, that although the government of the office will generally be left entirely to the chief clerk, and it is not necessary that the banker should be made acquainted with all the trivial delinquencies of the clerks, yet there are certain acts of misconduct that must always be reported, and when reported must be dealt with by the banker himself. In a well-disciplined establishment these cases will be rare, but they will occur sometimes, and then the mode of reproof or punishment will be regulated by the kind of offence and the character of the party. Every act of dishonesty, however trifling the amount purloined, must be followed by instant dismissal. Acts of deliberate disobedience to orders, gross disrespect to superior officers, or acts of immorality that would bring discredit on the bank, will generally be visited with the same punishment. But extreme punishment should be inflicted only in extreme cases. Mere accidental errors, though they may sometimes occasion great loss, must not be treated in the same way as those faults which arise from gross neglect, or which imply a deficiency in personal honour. It is generally a good rule that a banker should not reprove a clerk in the presence of the other clerks. By following this rule, he can adapt his reproofs to the character and position of the party; for a valuable clerk, even when really culpable, is not to be treated in precisely the same way as another whose services are of less importance. Nor is it any violation of justice, that those faults which arise from inadvertence should be viewed differently from those that arise from bad habits. Nor will it tend to impair the discipline of the office should it be known that a good character will sometimes get a young man out of a scrape, while he who had not that good character would be punished more severely for a less important offence. Another rule to be observed in administering reproof is,-in reminding a clerk of his defects, to commence with telling him of his good qualities. There is a credit as well as a debit side in every man's character: and it seems hardly fair to run over all the debit items, and say nothing of the other side of the account. This plan, too, increases, instead of diminishing, the pungency of the reproof, while it removes from the mind of the party any impression that the banker is influenced by motives of, personal dislike.