Life’s Lessons Learned #45: Working at LCFNB
Every morning I would go to the bank well before it opened. I would go back to the Board Room where the senior management would be gathered eating donuts and drinking coffee. My mentor in the trainee program was a bank Executive VP, Charlie Van Dusen, He had extended the invitation to me to join them in the morning. I was only the bank’s second trainee, but the first was already working as #2 in the mortgage department. This was a great opportunity to get to know the senior management of the bank. Besides Mr. Van Dusen the others often there were Jack Barry (Exec VP commercial lending), Robert Garret (bank President) and Stan Musselman (VP agricultural lending). Jack Barry and Charlie Van Dusen both worked on solving the New York Times daily crossword puzzle, and I started doing so as well. To this day I solve one or two crossword puzzles a day. When I took the SAT exam in 1962, I scored 99th percentile in math and 92nd percentile in the verbal. By the time I took the ATGSB (now known as the GMAT) for graduate school of business in 1974, I was 99th percentile in both parts. I credit the improvement to doing these puzzles, and have since then recommended to my students that they take up the habit of the daily crossword puzzle.
The main office of the bank was then at 23 East King Street in Lancaster. 23 East King Street is now a vacant lot. By the time that I was hired, the bank was already the result of several mergers. It was then known as the Lancaster County Farmers National Bank or LCFNB (a result of the merger of the Lancaster County Bank and the Farmers National Bank a few years earlier). It had 14 branches, all in the county, and total assets of about 114 million dollars. At that time it was the 114th largest bank of the 14,000 banks in the country (Any numerologists out there?). By the time I left in 1975 it had grown, through mergers and acquisitions, to 52 branches and 1.1 billion dollars in total assets. The main office moved, shortly after I left, to the corner of Orange and North Queen Streets. Today, after many changes, it is now part of the Wells Fargo Bank.
The management trainee program was initially designed to be a two-year program. In my eight years with the bank nobody ever went to the end of the program. It was a small program (with a maximum of 4 college graduate trainees), and the need for first level managers was so constant, that trainees were consistently offered full-time positions prior to completion of the program. Your first stop in the training program was with time in the bookkeeping and central file departments. The heartbeat of a bank is its deposits, and understanding how these were handled was pivotal. Checks were read and sorted through MICR ink (Magnetic Ink Character Recognition) located on the bottom of the check.
In 1967, LCFNB’s systems were not yet fully computerized. The central information files and loan ledgers were all still manual operations. A key department in bookkeeping was the proof department. There, the individual teller’s transactions were reviewed, and errors identified. At that time this was also a manual procedure. The entire top floor of the bank housed these bookkeeping operations.
Shortly after my arrival, the bank’s first mainframe computer was installed. It was an IBM 360 (a 32k machine). I have since owned watches with far more computing power. A number of the bank’s employees were given aptitude tests by IBM. I learned that I had the second highest score, behind my assigned mentor, Charlie Van Dusen. The computer had it’s own air-conditioned room built within about half of the second floor. The floor was raised by about a foot with all of the wiring running under the floor panels. Every night the processing programs were read from a paper strip (later IBM cards). There were no screens or keyboards at that time.
After a short familiarization period on the third floor I settled in working on the main office teller line. There, I was trained by Fiana Diffenderfer. She was the “grand dame” of the main office teller line. She taught me so much about customer service. She knew most of her customers by name, and she really cared about them. The teller line was “manned” by all women, with the exception of the head teller. These women were all long-term employees, and in the days before ATMs, the teller was the bank to the customer. To this day I remember these women with great respect for their skill. After a while, Fiana certified to management that I was ready for my own window, and I moved on to first the drive up window and then the “late” window (open late after the rest of the windows closed for the day). Fiana’s husband was an amateur historian, and a member of the Lancaster County Historical Society. She started me on a life-long interest in my family history when she gave me a copy of an article he had published in the Society’s Journal chronicling the life of my great-great grandfather, J. P. McCaskey.
After several months on the teller line I was sent to work with the head teller, who was also the note teller (who handled loan notes). All of the lending documents were, at this time, processed by hand. While there, I was approached by the vice-president of marketing for the bank, and offered a position in marketing. Each of the two banks (County Bank and Farmers Bank), prior to the merger, had a single marketing person. The one from the County Bank was put in charge (VP), and the marketing person from the Farmer’s Bank became his assistant/clerk/secretary. I was offered the position below the VP with the likelihood of replacing him within a few years when he would retire. I learned from the tellers that the Farmer’s Bank marketing person (a woman) had been poorly treated as a result of the merger. I said no thank you to the offer, with a claim that I wanted to learn a great deal more from the program before identifying my banking career path.
Shortly after this I was temporarily assigned to the Credit Department, which was headed by Charlie Bender. There was a rush need to prepare spreadsheet analyses of financial statements from the bank’s commercial loan customers. My accounting courses came in handy here. LCFNB was a member of the Robert Morris Associates. This group of banks shared standardized financial statement data, and developed, using SIC Codes, industry averages by size of the business for assets, liabilities, and operating data. These averages were then used by RMA associates, who would compare and evaluate the financial and operating condition of their loan applicants with the averages in their industry. At that time, there were no computer spreadsheet programs. All calculations were done with an adding machine. Ratios were calculated on a slide rule. Actually, this time period predates the availability of calculators. It would be several more years (1972) until Texas Instruments introduced to the market my first calculator, a “Datamath”. When I finally bought my first calculator, it was a personal purchase, and cost $54, about ½ of a week’s take home pay.