"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads: one path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other to total extinction."
That quote from actor/film director Woody Allen likely sums up the way many Utah bankers feel about the situation they find themselves in during these days of aggressive new competition on one side and unsympathetic, "business-as-usual" government authorities on the other.But the scenario doesn't have to be that bleak, Louis A. Harris assured some 400 members of the Utah Bankers Association gathered here for the organization's 80th annual convention. Instead, Harris said, the "Changing Face of Banking" - this year's convention theme - can be a positive force.
Rather than despair, hopelessness and extinction, there is a third path, said Harris, outgoing UBA president - the path of progress and continued success.
"While there are many doomsday prophets talking of banking's demise," said Harris, "I am not one of them. Rather, I suggest that we must learn to view change as a natural phenomenon - to anticipate it and to plan for it."
Instead of being stunned by the changing face of banking, said Harris, who is executive vice president of First Security Bank of Utah, bankers must understand that banking trends can be foreseen. "We must continually ask ourselves, `What will happen if . . .?' or better still, `How can we make it happen?' "
The past year has been one in which Utah banks have had to become comfortable with head-to-head competition, said Harris. Not just from another Utah bank across the street, but from the national banking giants, the so-called non-bank banks, and credit unions.
"We have begun to realize that some of our own conclusions about the banking business were not completely accurate."
Many bankers have learned first hand, he said, that making the wrong decisions in today's banking environment, can be disastrous. Thus, "facing reality" is the key to survival in the new age. No longer, said Harris, can bankers afford the luxury of inefficient operations and unimaginative marketing.
The new realities, Harris said, include the most profound restructuring in the industry's history.
"It isn't enough to merely react to changes in the elemental forces sweeping through the industry. . . . (e have) far deeper understandings of our current businesses, a vision of the future and strategies for turning our institutions into organizations that can thrive in this harsh new world."
The most dramatic new face of banking in the late 1980s, Harris said, is the emergence of what he termed "predatory banking."
"Unfriendly takeovers have been a fact of life in industry for decades. Many money center and investment banks have reaped large profits helping to finance them. But when Bank of New York lost its hostile tender for Irving Bank Corp., it jarred the realities of today's banking business into all of us," he said.
In a similar vein, said Harris, Manufacturers Hanover undertook last January a massive restructuring that involved 2,500 personnel layoffs and the same is true of many businesses. "We did what we thought an outsider would do to us," was their reasoning, said Harris.
That is the new and harsh discipline of banking, he added: Manage your company or somebody else will.
While bankers gear up to face their industry's hostile new realities, Harris warned they also must maintain their traditional commitment to ethics.
Commenting on the greed and corruption depicted in the film "Wall Street," Harris said the price for breaching public trust is high for those in business and government, but it is even higher for bankers.
"It's a price we could never afford because banking is a profession built on trust, maintaining customer confidence is a fundamental ingredient to banking success.