Can you imagine J. P. Morgan standing patiently in a line at his bank's headquarters, waiting for one of the tellers to decide to open a window and cash the chairman's check?
Symbolic of how much commercial banking has changed over the decades. District of Columbia National Bank chairman S. Greenhoot Fischer recntly found himself in just such a position.
There he was in the lobby of the bank's main headquarters at 1801 K St. NW, joining othe customers in the now common industry practice of lining up persons waiting to be waited upon. There was no apparent rush behind the tellers' windows to whittle down the line as rapidly as possible. At least one teller's window was closed and the teller was doing other work.
It was but one of many revelations to Fischer about his new line of business, commercial banking. And oneof the most frustrating, he recalled in a recent interview.
Fischer, a third-generation Washingtonian who gained prominence in the local business community for careers in insurance, real estate and electronics, moved into banking full time last year as chairman of D.C. National.
The bank is eighth largest of 16 based in the city but since Fischer arrived it has become one of the fastest-growing banks in the area. On June 30, D.C. National's deposits totaled more than $59 million, a jump of nearly 25 per cent in the past 12 months.
With an outsider's eye, Fischer is more openly critical of existing practices in his industry than most of his colleagues.He has suggested and instituded new approaches to getting business. A director since 1973, Fischer is joined in senior management by president and chief executive Irving G. Rudd, one of the bank's founders and formerly chief administrative officer.
Rudd was elected to those posts in March 1976, the resignation of former chairman Leo M. Bernstein, who had been with the institution for 10 years. Bernstein, who was a major stockholder in both D.C. National and National Savings & Trust Co., dropped his ties to the smaller bank when elected vice chairman of the city's fourth-largest bank.
Bernstein's shares in D.C. National were sold to a group of investors and Fischer owned some 21,000 shares (10.4 per cent of the stock outstanding) as of this year's annual meeting. Fischer became chairman last October.
"This is an entirely different way of life for me," Fischer said, presiding over the bank's affairs from a tiny office adjacent to the board roomsize facility occupied by his predecessor. "Here, I feel comfortable, I want to run this bank on a first-name basis, the door is always open."
What Fischer would like to build at 18th & K, he said, is a little House of Morgan, a little commercial bank," one presumably where the chairman and other customers can receive quick and personal service on loan requests in exchange for deposit business. "I want to size up a deal on a man-to-man basis," generating both new business for the bank and more loans to help small and medium Washington companies expand, he added.
Unlike large institutions, with "lots of red tape, I want the borrower to come in and see me . . . so it's now a question of waiting for a decision," the chairman said. A major problem is developing quality personnel to manage and operate branches, which Fischer conceded to be a weak point at his own bank and at competing institutions.
Fischer cited hison emphasis on bringing new loan business to the bank as a primary goal and said a team of loan officers at D.C. National's headquarters "are not second place to any bank . . . We're going after younger men in D.C. sons of pioneer who built the city."
As an example of what he means, Fischer cited his own emphasis on more than 25 years ago. When seeking to expand his commercial and investment real estate, management and sales firm of Greenhoot, Inc., started in 1945, Fischer was turned down for a loan by one D.C. institution, now Security National Bank.
He went to American Security & Trust Co. and was ushered into the office of Daniel W. Bell, long remembered as one of this city's great bankers and president of that bank from 1946 to 1959. Bell readily agreed to the loan on the grounds that Fischer was at the start of an expected career that would be profitable not only for Fischer but the banks as well.
"One of the ways to become a successful banker is to lend money with dignity." Fischer said in recalling his experience with Bell. And to this day, Fischer maintains his own banking accounts at American Security, in honor of the Bell commitment to him, and despite the fact that Fischer now heads a competing institution.
But Fischer said he intends to follow the Bell style at D.C. National and it seems to be paying off. D.C. National reported that loan volume of June 30 was $30 million compared with $24.5 million a year earlier.
Profits at D.C. National also have been moving higher. For the first six months of 1977, the bank reported yesterday, earnings before counting securities gains or losses rose to $233,000 ($1.17 a share) compared with $206,000 ($1.03) a year ago; net income was $1.28 a share vs. $1.17.
Much of the gains in deposits at the bank have come from increased savings and checking accounts by consumers an businesses who have loans. And the 1977 gains come on the heels of a sharp gain in profits last year: $2.01 a share vs. $1.54, before securities transactions.
Fischer, known as "Grieenie" to friends and 1935 graduating classmates at Central High School, said one reason for his aggressive approach to new loan candidates is the fact that, "I've been on the other side of the desk all my life."
"Being a real estate broker I found a difference of philosophy [fram bankers] you have to beat other brokers to the deal," Fischer stated Bankers should realize that potential customers are "anxious" about talks over loans and seek to move quickly on decisions.
Now 59 years old, Fischer said that while he has begun a new career late in life, "I won't change my personality. I'm not going to make bad loans but we need a more liberal lending policy, a more aggressive growth situation. I want to cultivate new people . . . we want to be a wholesale, commercially oriented bank . . . with no big shoots."
That means making loans for businesses and associations in the District, including many for real estate rehabilitation and development. "I've invested all my money in D.C., Washington is big enough for me," he said.