Executives of the Maryland savings and loan business, unhappily facing the toughest period in the 150 years of the national industry, received some novel but potentially useful advice last week: Try meditation.
At a time when savers are abandoning savings and loan institutions in record numbers, when interest rates are in another disastrous up cycle, and the housing industry continues to lie in a depressed state, a clinical psychologist recommended here that Maryland thrift officials consider meditation, yoga, exercise and relaxation programs as a way to relieve their tensions.
When you think about it, the advice, offered at a seminar at the plush Greenbrier resort as part of the Maryland Savings and Loan League's annual convention, makes some sense. As Harry Cawood, administrative vice president of Chevy Chase Savings and Loan sees it, there are few other things industry executives can do about it their plight.
"The only things that can solve most of the industry's problems are time and declining interest rates," Cawood said. "If anybody in this room can control these kinds of things, I'd sure like to know about it."
That's why the recommendation by Dr. George S. Everly Jr. of the University of Maryland isn't as offbeat as it might seem. Everly emphasized that stress is epidemic among business executives and that the condition is "eroding our health to a point where it is actually decreasing our life expectancy."
Everly's exhortations to the S&L executives were simple: Meditation and other activities to relieve personal strains of business are almost as important as the decisions that creat the stress.
"Would you take care of your finances the way you take care of yourself?" Everyly asked. "The most important time in your life is when you sit and do nothing."
The convention's planners must have agreed: Only about six hours out of three-day meeting were devoted to formal business meetings, and the league's golf and tennis tournaments were the only scheduled events one day.
"The board decided that even though the situation is not the best, we should consider discussing our problems and getting something positive out of it," said Charles Kresslein, president of the league. That six hours was long enough for the executives to hear their situation is unlikely to get better soon.
The industry, historically dependent on housing loans, made $71.3 billion in mortgage loans last year, 28 percent below the 1979 figure. "The first six months of 1981 will be worse than 1980," said John Dalton of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.
"Inflation, record high interest rates and unprecedented rate volatility have put our earnings under great pressure," said Rollin D. Barnard, president of the United States League of Savings Associations.
Even so, one couldn't call the mood gloomy at this picturesque retreat. Maryland savings and loans, under state rather than federal supervision, have the freedom to raise rates on passbooks and other savings devices.
One official noted that while 70 percent of federally insured savings and loans are in the red this year, the 70 percent of the Maryland institutions insured by the Maryland Savingss-Share Insurance Corp. (MISSIC) are showing a profit. Maryland hasn't faced economic hardships quite as severe as other major industrial states.
A few weeks ago, the industry got a long-awaited piece of good news from the federal government -- the ability to offer adjustable-rate mortgages.
"The new mortgage regulation is perhaps the most revolutionary change in home finance in our lifetimes," Barnard said.
The changes brought about by the new mortgages, an experiment with yet uncertain results, is also part of what Maryland thrift executives see as a broader revolution in their board rooms.
"It's not just a matter of hanging in there," said Charles Hogg, executive director of MSSIC, the body that insures 121 of the state's thrift institutions. "The industry is now learning asset and liability management," he noted.
Jerry Whitlock, executive vice president of John Hanson Savings & Loan and chairman of MSSIC, said these management changes in the industry are long overdue.
"I don't think most of us did planning before," Whitlock said. "Whitlock said. "We are finally developing operating policies. Now the S&L business requires a strategic plan. In the past, we had a nice spread, so why bother to plan?"
But no amount of planning or even the aggressive marketing by big institutions like Chevy Chase or John Hanson is going to recapture the vast amount of savings moving into the industry's dreaded competition -- money market funds.
That's why the industry, through the Savings and Loan Foundation Inc. and other lobbying groups, is campaigning to persuade Congress to permit savings and loans and other financial institutions to offer tax-free certificates.
In addition, Kresslein said the league will ask state legislators in Annapolis to rewrite Maryland's tax laws so that savings and loans will be able to deduct dividends and interest payments from a tax they pay on net earnings.
Despite advise from industry economists that interest rates ultimately will fall and that eventually the new adjustable mortgages will narrow the growing gap between the savings and loans' heavy portfolio of cheap, fixed-rate mortgages and rising interest payments, there is little doubt that the revival of the industry is dependent on the econoic turnaround promised under Reagan administration budget and tax policies.
Meanwhile, for the S&L business, meditation, if not prayer, might make some sense.