Risky Business

Do fear and safety go hand in hand?

Consider air travel. An estimated one in 15 Americans has a crippling fear of flying, and a quarter of the U.S. population reports being nervous about flight.

Of course, aviation is just about the safest mode of travel in the world. The average American is 1,330 times as likely to die in a car wreck as in a plane crash. But all the statistics in the world can’t dislodge the deep anxieties many feel about flight. In Greg Ip’s widely covered new book, Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe, the Wall Street Journal economics columnist explores why that sense of risk heightens the safety of air travel. Continue reading “Risky Business”

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Comfort Food

By 12:30 p.m. on M Street in downtown Washington, D.C., Bub and Pop’s sandwich shop is buzzing. The line to order stretches out the door of the little shop, which is housed in a brightly colored English basement in a converted rowhouse.

At the counter, owner Arlene Wagner takes orders and rings up customers with a smile and no-nonsense speed (plus a special thanks if they pay with cash). Just behind Wagner, her son and co-owner Jon Taub serves up massive, juicy hoagies with homemade potato chips. Diner favorites include a braised beef brisket sandwich with apple-horseradish cream, aged Gouda, and veal jus, or an Italian hoagie topped with four kinds of meat and Jon’s spicy homemade relish. Continue reading “Comfort Food”

Banking in the Sweet Spot

If you had to describe Jim Edwards’ bank, you might say it’s in the sweet spot—in virtually every way.

United Bank is a $1.1 billion bank based in central Georgia. Its footprint stretches from rural farm areas to the Atlanta exurbs. It’s a full-service bank, offering consumer products, mortgages, business loans and services, cash management and investment services, but “we try to do that with that small-bank, high-touch feel,” says Edwards.
United has grown into a classic community bank with a strong future orientation. Edwards’ colleagues and customers agree: as United has grown, Edwards is a model for community bankers in the 21st century. Continue reading “Banking in the Sweet Spot”

Stress Testing: Feeling the Pressure?

In 1928, a pair of heart researchers conducted an experiment. They took several patients with a history of clogged arteries, wired them to an electrocardiograph and asked them to do sit-ups until it hurt. In some cases, the researchers even pushed down on the patients’ chests to make them work harder.

The result: for the first time the ECG showed a clear pattern of reduced blood flow from the heart as the patients worked harder. The ECG allowed the researchers to identify with greater precision just how clogged a patient’s arteries were—and how it would affect his life. It was the first deliberate “stress test,” and it became a fundamental diagnostic tool of cardiology.

Nine decades later, it’s bankers who are wired up and sweating through crunches. Continue reading “Stress Testing: Feeling the Pressure?”

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Top of mind among anti-money laundering professionals is the “de-risking” trend in which financial institutions drop entire categories of business customers perceived to pose excess risk, such as money transmitters or third-party payment processors.

But less noticeable is how de-risking by larger financial institutions can spread more risk throughout the financial sector. After all, a money services business needs access to the financial system to survive; if it gets turned away by a big bank, it will try to find an easier access point.

Brian Wimpling, SVP and compliance chief at the Tallahassee, Fla.-based Capital City Bank, a $2.6 billion bank with branches mainly in northern Florida and southern Georgia, has “absolutely” noticed an uptick in inquiries from MSBs in the last few years. Continue reading “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”

How Bank Culture Drives Success

Two years ago, Adam Grant became famous with a very big idea: that generosity toward others gets you farther in business than selfishness. Grant’s basic argument is simple: There are three kinds of people in the world, givers, takers and matchers (those whose dominant style is determined by whether they’re dealing with a giver or a taker). Crude intuition suggests that in a cutthroat world, takers get ahead. Grant marshals evidence from psychology and behavioral economics to suggest that on the whole, givers have an advantage—especially over the long run, when true colors eventually show.

At just 31 years old—already the youngest-tenured and highest-rated professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and an instructor at ABA’s Stonier Graduate School of Banking—Grant published Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success to wide acclaim. Continue reading “How Bank Culture Drives Success”

Senator Wants to Play Airline Executive

Are airlines unfairly conniving to keep capacity low and thus drive up fares? According to Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, they are—and he’s asked the Justice Department to investigate.

Unfortunately for airlines and their passengers, Blumenthal has succumbed to a particular Washington, D.C., affliction: thinking he can run a business better than the people actually running it. If they had their druthers, Elizabeth Warren would moonlight as a banker, Joe Barton as a college sports administrator, Jay Rockefeller as an oil company executive, and Hank Johnson as a geographer.

Based on a New York Times report on an airline industry meeting, Blumenthal is concerned that “many of these [airlines] publicly discussed their strategies to remain ‘disciplined’ in their decisions to manage capacity across their flight routes.” Continue reading “Senator Wants to Play Airline Executive”

The Birth of the American Bankers Association

A massive construction bubble, driven both by speculative investments and government subsidies. Investment houses with excessive leverage in that very same construction bubble. A stock market crash, a spike in unemployment, global panic, a wave of domestic bank failures and resounding political consequences.

If this scenario recalls to you the past several years, then you’ll well understand the drama into which the American Bankers Association was born in 1875.

The construction bubble had been in railroads, whose growth had been jumpstarted by the completion of the first transcontinental line in 1863 and the need for rebuilding after the Civil War. From 1868 to 1873, more than 30,000 miles of new track were laid, and speculators piled into railroad stocks.

Continue reading “The Birth of the American Bankers Association”

Stronger Together

B. J. Cassin is no stranger to the idea that small investments can generate outsized results. That is the foundation of the venture capital industry—the business in which Cassin has earned his fortune over the last 35 years. So it is no surprise that Cassin’s next big move in K-12 education philanthropy will invest in carefully selected schools, educational entrepreneurs, and school networks with the intention of “transforming” faith-based and private schooling.

Cassin was one of the most important funders behind the growth of Chicago’s acclaimed Cristo Rey Jesuit High School from a single site in 2000 to a network of 28 high schools in 18 states and D.C. today (with more on the way). These Catholic schools now serve 9,000 students per year, the vast majority of them racial or ethnic minorities from ­low-income homes. With its innovative work-study model of four students sharing a job at a company, the network is affordable for families and fiscally sustainable. In 2014, all of its graduates were accepted to college.

Now Cassin is seeking to amplify this success. Continue reading “Stronger Together”