My Year-End Lesson From George Bailey
I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the first time ever recently. (Yes, ever.)
The 74-year-old movie contains unexpectedly poignant lessons about the important role that bankers play in building and strengthening their communities through prosperous economic times and depressed ones.
In a year defined by a devastating pandemic and related economic fallout, protagonist George Bailey embodies the pain that comes from waylaid plans and the weight of big and small sacrifices. This takes its toll on Bailey, who doesn’t always think it’s noble, enjoyable, interesting or heroic to be a banker. On Christmas Eve, he finds himself overwhelmed by the stress the job can carry — stress felt by his family — that steals his sanity, joy and pride.
Many bankers may sympathize with Bailey, but there are actually two financial institutions in this classic tale: the modest Bailey Bros. Building & Loan and Henry Potter’s unnamed larger institution.
At the thrift, Bailey shows generosity over and over by extending credit to customers to build a better life. “It’s a loan but pay it when you can,” he says. But when Bailey’s uncle misplaces $8,000 at Potter’s bank, Bailey encounters the same desperation his customers feel when they come to him, short of funds. Potter treats Bailey differently: In his drive to maximize profits, Potter can’t help but point out the delta between Bailey’s life insurance policy and his own life.
The parallels between Bailey’s story in the movie and bankers’ experiences today are obvious.
Despite welcome news of the approval of two vaccines, the coronavirus pandemic won’t end with this holiday season and its impact on borrowers won’t immediately dissipate after the country surpasses the critical vaccination threshold. Bankers will need to continue working with the customers that have been devastated by the recession and investing in their communities.
Be a Bailey, not a Potter.
• Kiah Lau Haslett, managing editor of Bank Director