The practice of making simultaneous examinations whenever they could be arranged between state and national examiners prevailed in the Comptroller's office for years before Mr. Murray became Comptroller, and the national examiners were instructed when they could not arrange with the state examiner for a joint examination to endeavor to obtain from the state institution authority to examine it at the same time they examined the national bank.
There was nothing new or novel, therefore, in this so-called reform, except the publicity given the reiteration of old instructions and the originality claimed therefor.
Another reform that was extensively advertised was the division of the country at large into eleven examination districts, and the placing of an examiner at the head of each district, who was called a district chairman, as distinguished from an examiner-at-large. The examiners who covered the territory comprising these several districts were at first instructed to hold conventions in January and July of each year in their respective districts and exchange views generally on the subject of bank examinations. These meetings were subsequently reduced to one each year because of the expense they entailed upon the examiners.
In 1887 Comptroller Trenholm advocated this same idea in his annual report to Congress for that year, but suggested an annual meeting to be held in Washington, and recommended that an appropriation be made to defray the traveling expenses of the examiners for attendance at such meetings.
At one time since then a movement was started among the examiners to organize themselves into an association and to hold a convention each year at the same time and place that the American Bankers' Association assembled. But nothing resulted from this movement as Congress would not provide the funds from which to defray the expenses, and the examiners could not afford to bear the expense themeslves or lose the time from their work in attending such meetings.
Mr. Murray, however, overcame all these obstacles by arbitrarily grouping the examiners into sections and ordering them to attend these district meetings at their own expense under penalty of suspension if they failed to do so.
The examiners were not salaried officers at that time. They were paid only for the time actually engaged in the examination of banks and any loss of time meant a corresponding reduction in their earnings. It was a great hardship, therefore, for an examiner to be compelled to attend the district meetings at a loss of compensation and the additional expense of travel, and most of them complained very bitterly of Mr. Murray's arbitrary action in compelling their atendance. They also complained that the additional labor imposed upon them in the preparation of essays to be read and discussed at such meetings and other data relative to the banking conditions in their respective districts involved an additional money loss to them in time and interfered with and delayed their regular work.
The consensus of opinion of the examiners in regard to these meetings was that while there was some little benefit to be derived from an interchange of views, the meetings resolved themselves into mere social gatherings which, while very enjoyable and expensive, enabled the examiners to become acquainted with each other, but were of no practical benefit.
Comptroller Trenholm's plan to have the examiners meet once a year in Washington, and for Congress to authorize their traveling expenses to be paid out of public funds, was a more practical proposition, as far as the accomplishment of beneficial results was concerned, as the examiners would then have been brought in close touch with the Comptroller's office and the contact would have been mutually beneficial.
The establishment and maintenance of a credit system in the Comptroller's office on an elaborate scale was another reform that was extensively heralded by Mr. Murray.
This plan contemplated the keeping of a record of the names and financial responsibility of all borrowers whose paper in excess of five thousand dollars was found in the more than seven thousand banks. This scheme was an excellent one in theory, but it was wholly impracticable, as any one on a moment's reflection could readily understand.
In the first place, a record of this character to be of any use at all would have to be accurate, and to keep it accurately it would have to show the constantly changing amount and character of the paper of any one maker on a given date, in order to determine his aggregate liabilities and whether or not they exceeded his financial worth.
If all the national banks of the country were examined on the same date, or if the banks were to list the names of all their borrowers and the amount of each loan and discount in their reports of condition for a given date, it would be possible for a force of clerks equal in number to the force employed in the Comptroller's office to abstract such reports and to get a line on the aggregate amount of credit extended to each borrower in all the banks. But what material or practical use would a record of that character be by the time it was completed. By the time the returns were tabulated a large percentage of the notes would have been paid and others would have taken their place for different amounts, either of the same or other makers. So that the only way to make such a record reliable and useful would be for the banks to report daily to the Comptroller by wire all payments and renewals of notes and new loans made to enable him to post the changes promptly in his liability record. The magnitude and utter impracticability of such a scheme is self-evident and needs no further comment.
For years before Mr. Murray became Comptroller it had been the practice of the Comptroller's office to keep a line on borrowers whose paper was found running through a number of banks in the same locality, or in the same section of the country, as shown by the reports of national bank examiners, for the purpose of determining the aggregate liabilities of any borrower and to check his borrowings when found to exceed the limit of his financial responsibility.