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The Three Rules

By John H. Buhrmaster

Be responsible, be respectful and be truthful. These are three rules of good conduct in my family’s household. No complicated list of rules, just these three simple rules upon which my children can judge their own actions.

As a father to three amazing children, I find myself talking about these rules over and over again. That’s not because any of my children often find themselves in the family dog house. To the contrary—I require myself to live by these rules every day. In doing so, my wife, Leslie, and I lead by example and are cognizant of our actions and what they mean for the well-being of others, including our children.

So, naturally, we sometimes find ourselves talking about these rules over family dinners and get-togethers. They also carry over a few miles west to the 1st National Bank of Scotia—the other place I call home. As a community banker, these same rules apply. It’s simple. As I want the best for my family, I want the best for my customers. When we follow these rules, everybody wins.

Well-informed consumers should have the ultimate say in who they want to do business with.

As one community banker to another, I don’t have to remind you about these rules. You know the well-being of your customers is essential to your ongoing livelihood. So you know that every action that’s not responsible, respectful or truthful will only harm rather than help people and communities. That’s why you take your principles as a community banker so seriously.

I only wish that those on Wall Street would do the same. I can’t help but think what pain might have been avoided if those on Wall Street had reminded themselves about these three simple rules during the years leading up to the financial crisis. While it does little good to think in terms of what might have been, I have a feeling that the term “Great Recession” might never have been added to our grandchildren’s history books if these simple rules—be responsible, be respectful and be truthful—had been followed by all.

While we can’t change the past, we can certainly speak up now to change the future. Greater protections against future crises and additional financial diversity will help reduce systemic risk, mitigate taxpayer exposure to bailouts, promote competition and ultimately provide essential credit to consumers and businesses.

All of this is smart public policy. These are important but not foolproof steps, and you can’t legislate all good behavior in the marketplace. Well-informed consumers should have the ultimate say in who they want to do business with. They should have the power to make a final choice.

And we have that choice too, every day, to say that we are going to live by the rules that we set as standards for ourselves and for others. That’s why community banks really have an opportunity to serve as role models for Washington’s policymakers looking to further rein in Wall Street’s careless financial institutions. After all, we have a time-tested, completely accountable business model that’s based completely on upholding the trust and well-being of our customers.

So go ahead and know that by following the rules and doing the right thing you are making a difference by setting the right example. You are setting the bar high and, quite frankly, when our customers, communities and economy’s livelihoods are on the line, that bar ought to be high for everyone.


John H. Buhrmaster is president of 1st National Bank of Scotia, in Scotia, N.Y.