Whatever natural talents a young man may have when he enters a bank, he cannot be expected to perform his duties well until he has been instructed. There is a good way and a bad way, a quick way and a slow way, of performing even the most simple operation. Incorrect or slovenly habits, when once acquired, are not easily abandoned. When, therefore, a young man enters a bank, he should be placed under the tuition of another clerk, well qualified to instruct him with regard to all his immediate duties. It is also desirable that the chief clerk should not have much manual labour, but should have leisure to walk round the office-stand for a while at the elbow of each clerk-observe his peculiar defects-and give such instructions as he may deem necessary or useful. The senior clerks, generally, should also be ready at all times cheerfully and courteously to give instruction to their juniors.
There are many ways of ascertaining the relative merits of a clerk. There is one obvious way; that is, to inspect the books which he keeps. It can readily be seen if they are kept in a good and neat hand-if there are any blots or erasures-and if they indicate any great degree of carelessness or otherwise. Quickness is generally an evidence of cleverness. A clerk who can count notes very fast, or who can cast up a long column of figures very quickly, and yet accurately, is generally a clever man. Quickness of hand denotes quickness of head, and it will generally be found that these two kinds of quickness go together. We do not say that this mechanical quickness of head proves soundness of judgment, but neither does it prove the reverse. In a clerk it is a decided recommendation.
Another test of the cleverness of a clerk is, the opinion formed of him by his fellow-clerks. When men associate together day after day for a number of years, both their excellences and their defects become known to each other, and each man falls into the position to which his qualities entitle him. The opinion which any one clerk expresses of the relative merits of the other clerks will generally be correct, when his own interest is not concerned. The opinion he may express will, in fact, be the opinion of the office, formed not only on his own experience, but also on the experience of all the other clerks.
The report of the chief clerk will generally express this united opinion of the office. But it is well for a banker to keep himself well acquainted, at all times, with the sentiments generally entertained by the chief clerk respecting the other clerks, and not ask his opinion merely when there is an opening for promotion. On these occasions, feelings of kindness, or the reverse, may induce a chief clerk to speak of the party in a somewhat different tone from that which he would employ at ordinary times.
"With a view to the proper training of clerks, it is desirable that there should not be too many in proportion to the work. If the clerks are unemployed for any considerable portion of the day, their habits of attention, of industry, and of quickness, are impaired, so that they do less work even in those hours in which they are occupied. The duties of each clerk should be sufficiently heavy to require a continuous application of the mind during the whole of the working hours. If a banker find that the clerks have time to read books or newspapers, or to carry on either gambols or quarrels among themselves, during the hours of business, he may safely infer that he has too many hands. By reducing the number he will make each clerk more efficient, and the work will be better done. He will also be able to increase their salaries individually. It is better that the same amount of money should be distributed among a smaller number of effective men than among a larger num-her who are less effective.
For the purpose of training the clerks, it is desirable that their labours should be so subdivided as that the duties of one office should be a training for the office immediately above it. The clerk, on his entrance into the bank, will thus have to perform those operations that require the least degree of professional knowledge-of knowledge peculiar to the business of a bank-and will advance step by step (each step requiring but a small addition to his previous knowledge) to the higher posts. When it is ascertained for which department-the cashier's or the accountant's-the teller is best adapted, he should be put into that post, the operations of which will form the best training for those duties which, when promoted, he will have to discharge.
The occasional absences of the clerks are conducive to their improvement. The juniors thus learn to perform the duties of their superiors. New arrangements are formed temporarily for a different division of labour, and, the hands being fewer, an additional stimulus is given to exertion. It is also useful, when it can be done, for the clerks to change occasionally, and do each other's work. Every clerk should be encouraged to suggest any improvements for abridging or facilitating his own labour. When a bank has several branches, it is often advisable that an occasional absence at one branch should be supplied by a clerk brought from another branch. A good inspector of branches will inspect the cashier's and the accountant's department as well as the manager's; and when he finds any improvement at one branch, he will introduce it into all the other branches.
But the greatest stimulus to improvement in the clerks is an impartial system of promotion. It is, perhaps, desirable that instances should occur sometimes, of a clerk, who is entitled to a higher post from seniority, being passed over, in order to show that superior merit is regarded. But it should always be obvious that the clerk who is promoted has superior merit. If a clerk is put over the head of another from favouritism, or caprice, on the part of the banker-or from the influence of friends, customers, or shareholders-or even for qualities good in themselves, but not increasing his efficiency as a clerk-then will great evils arise from his appointment, even though he should be as well qualified as the man who was entitled to the post from seniority.