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My Turn

March 9, 2009

My Turn: Government must not grow too powerful

This week's "My turn" column is by Douglas C. Gulotty, president and chief executive officer of Wilber National Bank.

The recession of "aught eight" will be remembered for generations as one of the most difficult in the modern catalogue of human suffering.

Past economic contractions carried similar suffering, but did so in an age where information was limited to three well-behaved networks; newspapers; and radio with a limited range. Today, we feel everyone's angst from every perspective.

I am a community banker. I know firsthand the tone of desperation that accompanies a family in financial crisis.

I was taught by older and wiser bankers to be empathetic; you had to understand the customers' position to offer the best solution for them and the bank.

I see good people with great credit turning in their cars because they have lost a source of household income and don't want to keep what they can't pay for. They know they will have a hard time ever getting their credit back, but they have decided this was a sacrifice they had to make.

As bankers, we do all we can to help them keep their car by sorting out a budget, reducing payments. We make small decisions together that help everyone.

Years ago on a repossession call, I removed a baby seat from a very well-kept station wagon and handed it to a wife with anger in her eyes. I blanched and looked at the husband, who had tears in his eyes. The children were frightened.

That was an effective means of teaching a new banker why you never make loans people can't afford to repay.

The Wall Street mortgage brokers, leaders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the government regulators would benefit from such training. We would have averted this crisis for a few more years, but not much longer.

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