Man lives in the sunlit world
of what he believes to be reality.
But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld,
a place that is just as real,
but not as brightly lit…..
Earlier this year, May 13 to be precise, was the 20th anniversary of the last day of a good-sized data processing operation known as First City Austin Information Systems. FCAIS provided data processing, ATM and item processing services to some 125 financial institutions across Texas—and made a lot of money for the bank of which it was a part. However, as part of the second recapitalization of Texas’ First City Bancorporation, HQ decided FCAIS was to be outsourced, “transitioned” to a brave new world in exchange for a one-time gain equal to about six months’ revenue. FCAIS found itself part of Electronic Data Systems, having had no notice and no voice in the decision. (Interestingly, EDS has now been “transitioned” itself, and recently became a part of HP… the Circle of Life continues!)I was among the many who thought this was just about the worst thing that could happen. We were mostly 15- to 20-year veterans, having literally grown up within the FCAIS organization. We had always done an excellent job for our clients, made good money for our owners, and became “family” together as we braved the rigors of automation as it was in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. But the Texas economy had turned south, driven by the massive decline in the price of oil, which followed the massive increase of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The euphoria of $100/barrel oil in 1983 had given way to a regional depression by 1986, when oil prices fell to a small fraction of that price. Corporate greed and lack of regulation led to what later became known as the S&L Crisis of the late 1980s, but all financial institutions in the Southwest were struggling, not just the S&Ls. Nine of the 10 largest bank holding companies in Texas failed or were re-capitalized in some fashion during this period. This is eerily reminiscent of what’s happening today.
So what can those of us who have been to “the dark side” before, and who still operate at the intersection of operations and technology, share about difficult times such as these? Even when the situation is looking less than rosy, there are steps you can take to lessen the impact on your bottom line – and your sanity. And while it may sometimes be hard to see the bright side, THERE IS A BRIGHT SIDE, if you look for it. Here are a few “been there, done that” tips from a seasoned veteran.
In the end, there is some Boy Scout camping wisdom that is helpful: the air is coldest just before the dawn. Last Friday the federal government unveiled its proposal for restoring sanity in the financial markets and this week Congress has been “fine-tuning” it. We have not seen the end of the problems, and I for one am not counting on the government to get it right on the first try, but at least our leaders in Washington are now in agreement that there is a problem. Mindless deregulation, which helped the financial giants much more than us everyday GonzoBankers anyway, will hopefully be a thing of the past, replaced by thoughtful regulation that avoids risk without unduly burdening smaller institutions.
It’s easy to slip into a rut when there are no problems. Sometimes an unwelcome trip to “the dark side” can reveal new horizons, horizons that were unknown until forced upon us. Finding what is not expected, opening new vistas on the reality of your life, can reveal something completely unanticipated about yourself, something that you didn’t know was there. Something GOOD!
The dark side is always there,
waiting for us to enter,
waiting to enter us.
Until next time,
try to enjoy the daylight.