Nine Young Bankers Who Changed America

By Evan Sparks

Early in 2016, while tracing the history of U.S. savings banks for an article I was writing on their bicentennial, I was intrigued by the stories of two of the founders of the savings bank movement: Philadelphian Condy Raguet and Bostonian James Savage. Both were 32 when, in 1816, they founded the first American savings banks in their respective hometowns. In addition to their contributions to banking, they were also notable merchants, travelers, men of letters, philanthropists and community leaders. When I first made Raguet’s and Savage’s (historical) acquaintance, I was also 32. I marveled at what these young men had been able to accomplish. They were talented and creative and industrious, but I would argue they were not exceptional for their times; instead, they had an open field for enterprising activity in a young country.

But the more I’ve learned about banking history, the more I’ve found that our field provides ample opportunities for young women and men in the early parts of their careers for incredible achievements. As you’ll see in this article, men and women under 40 pioneered numerous conveniences and innovations, from savings banks to data-driven lending and from traveler’s cheques to home computer banking.

Many of these innovators came late to banking or brought to the industry experience in another profession. Some were lawyers; one was a restaurant owner, another was a newspaper editor, still another an engineer. Some wouldn’t even have called themselves bankers. Our industry thrives when it welcomes ideas and expertise from outside the industry. And not all of these individuals were CEOs and presidents when they developed their world-changing ideas. Some were junior officers in their institutions, but their creativity and drive brought their approaches to the top.

None of what follows is to disregard the achievements of wise older bankers. We will always need the leadership in our industry of people who have done it all and seen it all. But my goal here is to show that throughout our industry’s history, many of our greatest innovations were driven by our younger colleagues. Banking has always been about finding that balance.

A final note: this list is neither comprehensive nor exclusive. It is simply informational—and, I hope, a bit inspirational too.

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About Evan Sparks

Evan Sparks
Evan Sparks is editor-in-chief of the ABA Banking Journal and vice president for editorial services at the American Bankers Association.