Editorial: First Tennessee Bank’s Business Model Endures

Saturday, April 12, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 16

As First Tennessee Bank marks its 150th anniversary, we are reminded of the changes over that span in technology and what our financial institutions have come to offer in the way of services.

A quick look through old copies of The Daily News over its 128-year history shows how much has changed in a short amount of time. Ads for Leader Federal and Union Planters show that names have come and gone.

The exhibits in the lobby of First Tennessee’s Downtown headquarters offer the reality of an adding machine under a glass case even as tellers there continue to cash checks and take deposits.

Pass books that tellers in an another era used to fill in with deposits and withdrawals are now family heirlooms that we look at to get an idea of a life we have moved far away from just within a lifetime.

But before we get too carried away with how office equipment has changed and the marvels of a digital world, let’s remember that the basic mission of banks and similar financial institutions remains.

These are centers where communities – people and businesses – deposit and withdraw their money and where loans are made and paid that help to build a community with a solid foundation.

The proposals and projects that walk through the doors of a bank are large and small, ongoing and new, sophisticated and simple. And there are different-sized banks with different outlooks and priorities that taken together form a network that helps to build stability and grow prosperity – often on a modest scale.

The financial scale of success for so many of us in this city is modest because of historically high levels of poverty that remain the most persistent challenge facing any vision of the future that seeks to include most if not all of Memphis.

Our appeal here is not to open the accounts and start throwing cash at that or eliminate any standards for what should always be a well thought out reason for credit and loan decisions.

We call for a better roadmap for consumers of what is available from these different financial institutions with an eye toward a better pathway to begin building wealth. The ability to start building that wealth is a beginning that while modest at first can help more Memphians move to a life in which they can make longer term plans and see broader possibilities than day-to-day economic survival.

Those broader possibilities are in the interest of our entire community and our financial institutions are the places that collectively are the most direct route to the kind of financial literacy that is necessary.

What is at stake is the view beyond the next payday not just for those who fill new jobs but for the enduring plans Memphians need to be able to make for themselves and our future together.