My mother was a banker. For most of four decades, the 1960s through the 1990s, she was a teller at bank branches in Columbia, Tennessee.
Those were the heydays of branch banking, before direct deposit and debit cards and online banking became ubiquitous. The need for regular, face-to-face transactions with a bank teller was still nearly universal. Paychecks had to be deposited, government checks needed to be cashed.
I remember my mother, who died in 2006, coming home exhausted on the day each month when Social Security checks hit the mailboxes of the senior citizens in my hometown. But even on routine Friday afternoons, the line of customers was sometimes five-deep at the teller windows at the First Farmers and Merchants bank in downtown Columbia.
Back then — and to some extent even now — bank tellers had a different relationship with their customers. Unlike retail clerks, bank tellers established durable relationships with their walk-ins. It's not unusual for them to exchange small-talk, and to know about one-another's families.
I know my mother, as the head teller at one of the town's biggest banks, was recognized everywhere we went in Columbia. When I was a teenager, people would take me aside and say things like, "Wilma is one of the nicest people I know."
I think as we get older we begin to understand how our lives and values are shaped by our parents. Here are 10 things I learned from the banker in our house:
Do that for 30 years at any job and the magic of compounding has time to work for you. When she retired, at age 62, mother's investment balance was, shall we say, robust.
In her final couple of years at the bank, she began to lose her mental edge, and her bosses shifted her to a customer service position that was a better fit for her. Loyalty breeds loyalty. (Or at least it used to.)
There is something soothing about knowing that your birth certificate, passport and family heirlooms are safe behind concrete walls. She also impressed upon us the importance of keeping up with the key to our lock box, as the alternative involved men with drills.
Sooner or later most of us need to borrow money. When that time comes for you, you'll be in a much better position if you have an established relationship with a bank. Really, wouldn't you rather sit at a banker's desk near your home than talk to somebody long-distance about your auto loan application?
Money is really not hard if you accept a few principals: live below your means, save all you can, invest for the long run.
The bank is to money as the public library is to knowledge. We'd all be better off if we spent more time at both places.