The Bonus of Rural America
by Mark Singleton
Just recently an executive of one of the major stock brokerage firms was defending the huge bonuses given his associates in light of the fact that his firm had received billions in bailout government funds. His reasoning was that in order to keep the best and brightest working at his firm, large bonuses must be part of their package.
These geniuses are the same “best and brightest” that made unsound and unsafe decisions that caused their investment firms to the brink of bankruptcy. If it weren’t for the U.S. government, their companies would have collapsed. And, make no mistake about it, when the term “government funds,” is used, that is congressional mumbo-jumbo meaning “your and my wallet.”
The vanity of these big boy bankers and brokers is exceeded only by the major media’s coverage inferring that all banks are in trouble. That is an insult to all of us that work in the two-story skyscrapers of rural America instead of the media ivory towers of Manhattan.
The solution at many mammoth banks is slash and burn. To get the bad loans off their books, even if they get ten-cents-on-the-dollar, they foreclose with little forewarning. They make decisions thousands of miles away without giving an inch.
They hide in skyscrapers while they scrape lives bare.
It’s different with community banks. The people with trouble making their home or business loan may be your next door neighbor, or sing next to you in church, or sit next to you in the bleachers at a Little League game. When you are a hometown banker the last thing you want to do is take away a home or livelihood. We have to be better bankers because we can’t hide.
The vast majority of community banks are doing just fine. Our best and brightest Ellis County bankers have a much better track record than the ivy leaguers on Wall Street. We all appreciate the opportunity to have a job and often our only year-end bonus is simply the assurance that there will be a job in the following year.
The bankers that are safeguarding your funds at community banks have a higher objective than making a name for themselves in the hallways of the Wall Street Journal. That higher calling is simply to know that you consider them a resource even if you seek their advice in the aisle ways of Wal-Mart.
The Egos of Eastern Establishment will never admit the fact that it is the mis-management in Manhattan that tears the country down and its the roll-up-the-sleeves values of rural America that re-builds it again. It’s the “can-do” attitude of people that live in places like Ellis County that make it possible for bailout funds to exist. And, eventually we will be the new backbone to the spineless executives that have worked to cripple the economy.
Mainstream America is making a difference. When gas prices soared to $5.00 a gallon, everyday Americans stopped buying as much gasoline. The result: prices at the pump have fallen by more than 60 per cent.
Main Street America will begin to replace the gloom-and-doom portrayed by the press with a confidence that has succeeded in economic crisis in the past.
We have a short memory. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the press had the country going down the tubes with the drain spout located in Texas.
However, hindsight tells us that the national press was reporting the pulse of people at Madison Avenue and Forty-Eight Street rather than Main and Elm in thousands of communities in America. Texans bounced back during 1988-1992. Land prices and Texas crude rose and confidence soared.
There is no doubt that we are facing economic hard times. However, the vast majority of banks are not as poorly run as the major institutions grabbing the headlines, nor is the heartbeat of America on its last pulse. We may trip a few more times in coming months, but history and our heart tells us we will land on our feet.
Mark Singleton is the President and CEO of Citizens National Bank of Texas. This column is the second in a series that examines what banks, businesses and the general public in Ellis County can do to combat the current tough economic times.