Bank CEO gives roundtable talk

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by Abigail Sanford
Robert W. Armstrong, president and CEO of the Delaware National Bank of Delhi, addressed the Andes Roundtable at the Hunting Tavern last Thursday.  Having left his banker’s suit at home, and dressed in an open shirt and slacks, Armstrong, was confident, relaxed and clearly enjoying himself as he spoke to a crowd of about 20 people on the subject of his life’s work.

A long-time Andes resident with deep roots in the community, Armstrong began his talk with a history of banking and then zeroed in on the Glass-Steagall Act which, prior to 1999, kept commercial banks, both large and small, out of the more risky business ventures of Wall Street. Armstrong believes that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 was an instrumental cause of the financial collapse in the national banking system in 2007 and ’08.

Discussing a subject near and dear to his heart, Armstrong discussed the benefits of doing business with small, local banks rather than with big national banks.

“All business is personal, it should be” he said, explaining that he never uses a person’s credit score to determine if someone is qualified for a loan. Instead he looks at the person and their financial history to see if they will be a good candidate. He also explained that The Delaware National Bank retains all of its mortgages, they don’t sell them into the secondary mortgage market.

Armstrong believes that the largest money-center banks have become too big. “When four banks in this country (Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo) control 50 percent of the country’s deposit, we are all at risk,” he said. He believes that the big banks need to be broken up into smaller banks and that the Glass-Steagall Act needs to be reinstated.

Asked about the current economy and what he thought about Ben Bernanke, chairmen of the Federal Reserve, Armstrong explained that that he feels Bernanke is a very smart man in a very tough position. 

“There is not a lot of magic left in the bag of tricks,” explained Armstrong. He went on to explain that people still have full faith in the credit of the United States. If, or when they lose faith, then we will be in a tough situation. Rates will have to rise and we will see serious inflation.

Although they sounded like strange words coming from a banker, Armstrong said one of the major financial issues facing our national economy today is that Americans are still living on too much borrowed money. He said that the World War II generation struggled and worked hard to provide better lives for their children but put off buying things until the money was in hand.

Today, he sees that the work ethic has slipped and that too much easy credit has created an environment where everyone buys whatever they want, whenever they want. “Eventually it catches up to everyone,” he said.

Armstrong noted that the recent history of banking is not a subject that has brought people joy, but he finished his presentation on a positive note saying, “The American dream is still there.” He explained that as a nation, we need to have serious and open discussions about what needs to be fixed in the long term and not just come up with short term solutions. He said, “Once we realize what it is we want for our country we are going to have to just buckle down and get there.”

The Delaware National Bank of Delhi was founded in 1839 and has its main banking house at 124 Main Street, Delhi. The bank operates full service branches in Margaretville, Hobart and Pindar’s Corners and a loan production office in Oneonta. The bank also operates a trust department in its headquarters in Delhi. As of the end of 2011 the bank had assets of $238 million and, for that year, earned an after-tax profit of $1.7 million.  To contact the bank in Delhi call 607 746-0700, or in Margaretville, call 586-1200.