Veteran bankers see advantages to old ways

July 8, 2014 

This story originally appeared in he Idaho Statesman Dec. 16, 1995

Tom Frye remembers the old banks on the corner and what they meant to a community.

He is careful not to criticize those who have come after him, and credits them for improvements.

But he also has some concerns about trends in modern-day banking.

So does John Evans, the former Idaho governor who now is back in the family's banking business in Burley.

Frye was CEO and chairman of the board at West One Bank in Boise until his retirement in 1984. Banks today are far more flexible in finding ways to make loans and provide services than when he got into the business in the late '30s, he says.

But personal service may be on the decline.

"Banks tended to be very personal, " he said. "Usually, they were on the main corner in every community, no matter what size. You could almost see one from four blocks off, because they all sort of looked alike.

"Everyone knew each other. All the employees knew their customers, because they did their transactions by hand. They knew the signature of customers. Everything you wanted to know, you knew through many years of handling transactions."

But Frye says change was inevitable, because banks give customers what they want, and customers demanded change.

They wanted convenience, so bankers provide it with credit cards, ATM machines and suction pipes that take a customer's deposit from his car to the bank.

But Evans believes customers also want eye-to-eye, flesh-to-flesh, mammal-to-mammal contact, which is why he makes it a point to be on the floor, to shake hands and help reassure customers in their transactions.

Frye took pause when he read a recent story of how one local bank is considering a discount for customers who make their deposits outside the bank.

"Key bank is embarking on a plan for the customer to be outside the bank to make deposits, " he said. "It's being tried, but it's not necessarily a proven that it's going to be the methodology of the future."

His reservations go back to a long-held philosophy.

"The bankers of my day felt a good dependable customer was an asset, " he said, and maybe they shouldn't be charged for putting money into the bank.

"You didn't want to fool with that, " he said. "You had to be careful how the customer was received, how happy he was, because it's awfully hard to entice a customer back."

"With current trends to reduce the cost to deliver service, there is also a great danger that there are not enough people to deliver the service in popular demand.

"Sometimes, downsizing has a way of changing the the culture of the personnel."

Evans swears this story is true.

"I walked into one of the major branches in Boise, a new bank, not long ago, a new branch, and I was talking to the manager, " he begins.

"Finally, I said, 'Where can I get a loan?'

"He (the manager) looked around and said, 'Well, there's a telephone over there."'

It was music to Evans' ears. He says the regional corporate banks have been a boon to the family's D.L. Evans Bank in Burley.

"Every time we hear of a merger, we cheer, because we know the customers are disenchanted with the impersonal service they're being provided, and they're walking down the street (to the family's independently owned bank).

He says business has been growing by 15 to 30 percent a year, or from 50 million five years ago to $110 million now.

As for the layoffs, Evans says that will hurt the consumer.

"I don't care what they say about those cuts, " he says. "It's going to result in less services for the customer."

Frye remembers a time when banks and bankers were viewed with great favor.

"When I began, the banker was the pillar of the community, " he said. "The bank was the major building, and there was an aura in the public's mind.

But Frye also says the banks of today are more flexible than those coming out of the Depression when he first got into the business.

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