Moments in Bank History:
Ed Moran: "You've Got a Friend at Chase"
Ed Moran (Chase 1966-1985) was tasked by his daughters to write down some of his experiences for a family book, which he recently completed. Here's a chapter.
My team leader in the Corporate part of the 410 Park Avenue branch was a nice guy but a definite WASP from the old school. One day, he came down from the loan department with a couple of overdue loan notices. He reeled off the various names and one or the other of the assembled multitude would promise to track down the offender. One last name stumped George though. “Arthur Garfunkle!!! Who the hell is Arthur Garfunkle??” “As in Simon and Garfunkle, George. I’ll call his agent.”
* * *
I experience many strange coincidences where I will hear/see something new or that I haven't seen in a long time, and then I will then it again within a day or so.
Here's one of the better examples. On a Saturday night, a couple of friends were having dinner at our house in the Pines. One told a story about being in a fishing tournament and having hooked a large fish at quarter to four when the rules were a fish had to be landed by four or it didn't count. He landed the fish. As usual, one story leads to another, so that reminded me of another quarter to four story which I proceeded to tell.
In the early 1970s I was an officer in one of the corporate Park Avenue offices of Chase, with a beautiful view of the avenue. I got a call from the treasurer of one of my customers, Viking Press. Someone in the company had gotten a call from one of the retail bankers on the second floor, inquiring about a Viking check that had been presented at the teller's window for a couple of thousand dollars made out to Aaron Latham, one of their authors (Urban Cowboy among other works). The officer was unsure that the presenter was who he said he was. Would I go upstairs and check since I had met Latham at one time? I went upstairs and looked at the fellow sitting at the manager's desk. He was black; Latham is midwestern white. I ran downstairs to call the police and happened to glance out the window and there was a cop car sitting at the light. I ran out and literally sprawled myself over the front of their car and explained the situation. It was obvious that they were really reluctant to get involved. I soon figured it out. NYPD changes shifts at 4 pm. They were getting off duty and it was...a quarter to four. They finally pulled over, went upstairs and arrested the guy, who confessed that he had been breaking into mailboxes as a source of funds and had stolen Latham's check. Interesting story, but you really had to be there to see me sprawled over the hood of a police car in the middle of Park Avenue, holding up traffic and trying to persuade two cops to come in and arrest a guy on my say so.
The very next morning, Sunday, we watched CBS Sunday Morning, as was our usual habit. The lead story featured Leslie Stahl, who rarely appeared on Sunday Morning since 60 Minutes is her regular gig. The subject was Parkinson's Disease and new methods of treatment, many of which involved exercise such as boxing. Stahl then proceeded to show us one victim of the disease in a local boxing gym, slowly mixing it up with a trainer. It became apparent why she had been chosen to lead that piece when she disclosed that the fellow so afflicted was her husband.
Up to that moment, I hadn't known that her husband was...Aaron Latham...or had even thought about him in 30 years.
And so it goes. Over and over.
* * *
My first assignment was a small branch at Madison Ave and 57th Street that is no longer there. Back then, branches like that had a mix of corporate and retail business. The corporate customers were an interesting mix; the retail were interesting in their own right. The grizzled banking officer in the next desk was a font of knowledge that he was more than happy to share. “Watch the first guy who comes through revolving doors in the morning and heads directly to your desk. He’s been thinking up some scheme all night and he’s primed to go.” Reassuring stuff like that. One of those was an elderly lady who came in the afternoon, so I was caught completely off guard. She didn’t fit the profile, but she certainly qualified. “Young man, I hope you can help me. I need to get home, lost my wallet, have to catch a taxi, long-time customer.” I gave her ten dollars after ten minutes of that talk. She said that her priest could vouch for her and gave me his card, not that I was about to run a credit check on her. After she left, the manager of the safe deposit area ran upstairs. “I saw you talking to Mrs. Xxx, did you get her payment?” Seems she owed over a year’s rent on her box and they had recently broken it open only to find it contained nothing but broken glass. The card she gave me showed the name of a monsignor attached to the NY Archdiocese, so I called just for kicks. He said he was saying his Daily Office in his room when he heard the insistent blaring of a taxi horn in the courtyard. When he went down to investigate, there was the lady with a similar story with one interesting fact. She was a “proud depositor” at my branch. “She doesn’t have any money, does she?” “No, she doesn’t, but pray for me father, because I gave her my Chase card.” “Pray for me too, son. I gave her a couple of my cards.”
* * *
One day, a rather bulky individual came into the branch with a large briefcase. Again, it was an afternoon so I was beginning to doubt my mentor’s wise words. He sat at the assistant manager’s desk and soon an animated conversation ensued. He was a representative of the noted “businessman” Joseph Colombo who had just started the Italian American Civil Rights League, partly because his son had gotten into a bit of trouble. It was in all the papers. Bulky man had laid the large briefcase on Wally’s desk and wanted to make a deposit into the recently opened account. He wanted Wally to take the cash, count it, fill in the deposit slip and take the deposit. He was not going to the teller’s window. Understandably, Wally was not going to do that. After a half hour of this, Wally went downstairs “to inspect the bookkeeping area” but could be seen peering up the steps periodically. Bulky man never moved. I believe he stayed there until closing time.
* * *
I had the dubious pleasure of being at that branch when Chase introduced the “single line to the tellers” system. I don’t know how many times I had to explain, “Same number of tellers; same number of customers; just arranged differently.” Got tired of hearing, “So you’re certainly not my Friend at Chase”. I hated that slogan. The manager had potted plants artfully arranged to enclose his desk at the back of the branch floor. Irate customers crashed through the plants to rail at him periodically.
* * *
There were many high spots in the days. I had long conversations with Stacy Keach about the acting business and his numerous roles. Robert Montgomery, the actor and director, talked about his incidental naval career and his pride in his daughter Elizabeth’s role in the popular TV series Bewitched. One day two gentlemen sat down at my desk to open a business account. We had a nice conversation. They had worked for Doyle Dane Bernbach and were going out on their own. Great, happy to have you here, best of luck but can’t give you a pack of sample checks without checking references. They suggested that I open the business section of the Times and turn to the advertising news. There was a picture of the two, Helmut Krone and Gene Case, the creators of the legendary Volkswagen print commercials: Think Small; Buy A Lemon; If it Runs out of Gas It’s Easy to Push, etc. Singlehandedly transformed the perception of that “Nazi car” and to an extent, the ad business itself. Here’s your checks.They along with others, started JOCK NY Magazine, a short-lived but very smart sports magazine that was also my customer. I probably spent far too much time at their offices but customer cultivation is thankless, right?
One of our customers was Reuben’s Delicatessen, the originator of that famous sandwich. Every Friday afternoon, they’d send their great sandwiches to their favorite tellers. They also supplied the sandwiches for a trip to the World Series for two of us and several Schweppes executives. The game? Fifth game of the 1969 World Series. The Game!!! Unforgettable.
I patronized a barbershop around the corner where I befriended a kindly older barber with a set of numbers on his arm. We talked frequently about the Nazi death camps and his deliverance from them. One day, he came to my desk and said, “My check never came.” The German government had set up a reparations fund for concentration survivors and used Chase as the paying agent. I tried to reassure him that there might be some delay, and we should probably wait a couple of more days before I hunted up the responsible person in the Trust Department. He was adamant that it was lost, not delayed. “The Germans kill you on time; they pay you on time.” I made the call. He was right.
When, a year later, I transferred to the large branch on Park Avenue. I sat downstairs handling corporate customers; the retail business had to climb the stairs (escalators). The customers were varied and interesting: ad agencies, publishers, Loews, Lever, CBS, Columbia Pictures and the NFL, among others. Of the big attractions of that branch were the eight dining/conference rooms on the fourth floor run by the Knott Hotel Corporation. It had a liquor license!! It was very popular among the various corporate branch managers in the city: a tough ticket, but sometimes there were last-minute cancellations, and the dining room manager hated to have a room go to waste. One day… ”Mr. Moran, we’ve had a last minute cancellation, can you fill it?” Sure thing. Called Patrick McGrath who had become the third partner in the Case and Krone ad firm that resided on the next block. As we stepped out of the elevator, Pat was blown away by the art on the walls and the furnishings, so I gave him the grand tour. We then entered one of the dining rooms, sat and watched the glass door silently close behind us. I asked if he would like a drink? Touched a button under the table, a nice gentleman came in, took our order, returned quickly, set the drinks down and left. The door closed silently behind him. Pat sat for a second, then said, “Ed, let’s swallow this drink fast and get out of here before they discover us two Irish kids from Queens.”
One day, I was giving my sister a tour of the various areas. As we entered the dining rooms, Walter the manager said that he had just had a cancellation. “Would you and your guest like to stay for lunch? The food will just go to waste.” I explained that the guest was my sister, not a customer. He repeated the invitation. I hesitated, then pictured the branch manager’s face if, on exiting his daily reserved dining room, he had discovered the pretty woman I was entertaining was my sister. George would not be pleased. I declined, leaving Walter shaking his head.
One of my customers was Pierre Matisse, a gallery owner and the son of the famous Henri Matisse. Pierre was a fairly reserved person and one day, I took him to lunch at the fourth floor dining room. As we walked down the hall, I pointed to one of his father’s pictures on the wall. He stopped, inspected it carefully, acknowledged that it was Henri’s and continued walking. He and his father never got along, it seems. I said that Pierre was reserved and seemed to be until he went on his buying trips to Europe. I would try to arrange a credit facility before he left to enable him to make acquisitions as he visited various artists. He would never agree, which left me on more than one occasion attempting to help him pay for a “must have” artistic piece on the spot. “Mr. Moran, I am here in the studio of Miro and I need 100,000 Swiss Francs sent to his account in Zurich Immediately.” This was usually late on a Friday afternoon, after a couple of glasses of wine. His, not mine.
Thankfully, I had only a couple of those “personality accounts”. The fellow behind me, Joe, had the bulk of them, and these were his stock in trade. All the special customers loved Joe because of his personal service. The son and inheritor of the famous (at the time) restaurant Mama Leone’s would have his driver pull the limo up to the curb and honk, and Joe would scurry out with a deposit slip, then run up the escalator to the branch, then back down, run out to the car, hand the deposit slip in; window would close and the car would drive off. Another, was the daughter of the head of a prominent advertising agency, Arthur Fatt. Somewhere along the line, she had married a lawyer named Andrew Heine, so of course, she chose to have her new checkbooks inscribed Barbara Fatt Heine. Why not? Joe talked to her often but despite his unfailing efforts, she could never grasp the basics of balancing a checkbook.
Joe also made frequent house calls. One of those special customers was Clare Boothe Luce, who though married to the Time-Life chairman Henry Luce, was very famous in her own right as an ambassador, author and more. I was always referring to her as “Clare Loose Booth”, which drove Joe nuts. One day as he came back to the office, he yelled at me. As he left her apartment, he had used my Loose Booth nickname by mistake, when speaking to the maid.
Another special customer was Greta Garbo, who even occasionally came into the branch and sat with Joe. I used to peek carefully at the “I Vant to be Alone!!” lady to avoid sending her scurrying because she really was as shy as reputed to be. Every so often, Joe would go on vacation and I was usually picked to substitute for him. It was an experience. Once or twice, I heard a limousine horn outside. I feigned being tied up on the phone. Turns out the driver could also navigate an escalator.
* * *
The corporate floor was littered with Georges: The boss, my team leader and the international team guy. George #3 had a yearly St. Patrick’s Day party in the dining rooms for customers that was very well attended. It started with Irish Whiskey, Harp Beer, clams, corned beef and cabbage, and large pieces of cake with white and green frosting followed by Irish Coffee. Two hours later at my desk, I prayed that no customer approached me for anything.
* * *
Speaking of beer, one of the new business customers I captured was a company that had the North American distributorship for Löwenbräu. The management were all Germans. In doing my due diligence, I asked how long they had been doing business with Löwenbräu. “Fifty years…except for a small interruption from 1940 to 1945.” I noticed a slight smile. They were kind enough to invite me to their annual gathering at the Munich Oktoberfest celebration since I had mentioned that I was going to be in Germany during that period. I was scheduled to use my two weeks active duty flying our Air Guard refueling tankers out of the airport in Frankfurt. We normally were allowed to take the plane anywhere we could be accepted on the intervening weekend. On previous missions, we had gone to Copenhagen and Amsterdam, so going to Munich would be a breeze and I could bring the whole crew. Oktoberfest as guests of Löwenbräu!! Then the two week German mission was cancelled at the last minute. You win some...and sometimes you don’t even get to play.
* * *
In this branch as in most, vault duty went on a rotating basis to the lowest ranking officers. The job was on a weekly schedule and involved putting the officer’s code into one dial and then the head teller did likewise on a separate dial. I had the duty at my previous branch and got to skip the torture on this one. Nothing quite like having tellers grumbling behind you in the morning while you’re fumbling with the tumblers. And then there‘s the waiting while the tellers total up for the day. Frank, the assistant manager in the branch upstairs, was talking to one of the tellers as she was putting away her cart. The conversation concerned the respective plans for the upcoming three-day weekend, and both were anxious to get started since it was Friday night. You know that big dial on the outside of bank safes? It’s there for a reason. It locks the vault. While dreaming of beaches, cookouts, whatever, Frank spun that big dial. Problem was, the door was still open and was now locked open. The timer was set for Tuesday morning and couldn’t be reset. Frank and an irate teller had to wait until after 9 that night until the safe company arrived to reset the system. And then there was the paperwork and the boss on Tuesday morning.
One of Frank’s favorite customers was Bishop Fulton Sheen, who was a regular visitor at his desk. He’d wave and smile as he walked in the door on the main floor and went up the escalator. The bishop was as warm and entertaining in person as he was on his Tuesday night television program, which gave strong competition to Milton Berle (Mr. Television, whose show aired on Tuesday nights). And Sheen was famous for having converted the aforementioned Clare Booth Luce to Catholicism. One day, as Frank and the bishop were conducting business, Frank asked Sheen for a favor. “Could you take a couple of minutes and come to the bookkeeping department? They need your blessing. It’s been a mess in there for at least a week. Nothing is balancing.” So, he went back to the department, walked in the door and stunned the five or six clerks working there by blessing them and their work. Clerks in a bookkeeping department rarely see the light of day. That day they saw the light. Smiles and laughter all around the branch.
* * *
Frank was not the only one who had the occasional screw up. I was tasked with breaking in a new young officer assigned to the corporate floor. I showed him around the four floors, explained the intricacies of the unisex executive bathroom (way advanced for its time) and parked him at one of the vacant desks on the main floor. I then went to lunch. As I walked back through the revolving door, Joe the guard, called me over. Joe was retired Navy and actually worked downtown at the main office when I was a messenger in the Brokers’ Loan Department my first summer. Now I’m a Second Vice President and Joe is fond of reminding me that I haven’t changed much from the snot-nosed 16 year old that he used to kid back then. “Ed, you’re in charge of the new guy, right? You’re showing him around all the places and all the tricks, right?” Yup. “When you put him at that desk, did you happen to mention that is one of the desks that have the silent alarm beside the drawer that signals a bank robbery?” Nope. “Well, we had a visit from several police cars and guys with drawn guns while you were out entertaining your customers over a two-martini lunch. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.” And paperwork. I never lived that one down.
Joe had many good qualities, one of which was his clicker. He used that to alert us when someone or something of interest was passing by the four picture windows in front. The bank was considered to be pretty much safe from robberies since the branch was located on the second floor. Any note passer would have to get down the escalator and run past the guard before reaching the revolving door. It happened once though. The bad guy ran past Joe. He tried to grab him and missed but trapped him in the revolving door, momentarily. Push hard enough on the glass partition and the four quarters of a revolving door become two halves. Which he did, and was gone. I arrived back from lunch just in time to see two cops with guns drawn peeking into the windows.
* * *
Customer entertainment was a regular feature of a banker’s corporate life back then. The Open at the Forest Hills Tennis Club, World Series, basketball, hockey, etc. One regular feature was the Annual Ducks Unlimited Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, held for a worthy charity dedicated to the preservation of our feathered friends, funded mainly by duck hunters. Rather ironic, I always thought. One dinner I particularly remember featured, as one of the auction prizes, a full-size canoe. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen two slightly inebriated guys staggering out of the Waldorf with an eight-foot canoe on their heads. After one dinner, with brandy and cigars to finish the evening, there was the requisite film of ducks and geese. I soon noticed my dinner companions had silently crept away. Before leaving, I went around the table and collected a couple of the duck stamp drink coasters that were left. They were beautiful ceramic pieces. When I got home much later that night, I pulled them out of my jacket pocket to display them proudly to my wife. Along with clouds of cigar ash.
♦ My motto as a Corporate Lending Officer: If you want a fast answer; the answer is NO.
♦ Never give money to something you can’t understand.
♦ Learn by experience. If possible, learn by someone else’s experience. It’s less costly.
♦ If you want the real story of a company, go to the factory floor. Avoid the offices for as long as possible. The street smarts live on the floor that produces the product and solves the problems.
♦ When even the fools are making money, take some off the table. It’s a bubble. When it breaks, someone’s going to be hurt.
♦ There’s no job that’s so good that it can’t be spoiled by a bad boss. If there are no prospects that he will move on, you should. Nothing good will come of sticking it out for the long haul. You’ll adversely affect your career path or your health. Maybe both.
♦ Everything worth doing will probably have to be done two or three times to accomplish the original objective.
♦ Life is a series of plateaus. Don’t plateau too early.
♦ When beginning a new assignment, I look for logic. If I can’t find logic, I’ll settle for consistency. If I can’t find either, I anticipate chaos.
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