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Greenspan lets bankers keep their concerns

Tom Brokaw was very serious, Art Buchwald was very humorous and Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan was very much beside the point. One of three featured speakers, Greenspan left thousands of bankers shaking their heads Monday as they left the morning session of the American Bankers Association convention in Orlando.

About 4,000 bankers have assembled this week for their annual meeting at a time many bankers regard as extremely critical.

But Greenspan, who is chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, which oversees the nation's banks, sidestepped key issues of the day.

Instead, he gave a 20-minute address on the history of how monetary transactions are done and how technology is changing this arcane field.

"I was very disappointed," said Micheal L. Lillehaugen, president of the Community State Bank of Alexandria, Minn.

"We weren't looking for an historical address. There are so many topics that concern us. I thought Brokaw was the best."

Another Minnesota banker agreed. "Interest rates, the dollar, the budget deficit, they are all things we talk about and look for leadership on," said Hebert A. Lund, chairman of Security Bank Minnesota in Albert Lea, Minn. "We didn't hear it."

He then looked outside. "And now it's raining."

Brokaw, the NBC newscaster, preceded Greenspan. Brokaw had spoken on the need for stronger leadership from the Bush administration.

Greenspan's remarks were previewed as possibly focusing on key banking issues.

But after a brief opening remark about the stock market, Greenspan stayed with his prepared text. He also was unavailable for interviews following the speech.

As Greenspan spoke, hundreds of people left. "I thought the meeting was over," said J. Thomas Aldrich, a former banker from St. Petersburg now with Bankers Insurance Services. He was waiting in the lobby as people poured out.

When Buchwald, the newspaper columnist, started his remarks, people returned to the auditorium.

Not everyone was critical of Greenspan's address.

Said Wilmer Whittle, chairman of the Newton County Bank in Newton, Miss., "With the way things are, he has to be careful what he says. I'm sure he was told not to shake us up."