The Last Real Banker?

Relationship Banking Is Not Dead—Yet

In southern Vermont, people talk of a legendary banker named Dudley H. Davis. After serving in the Navy in World War II, Davis in 1946 became a teller at the Merchants Bank in Burlington, rising through the ranks to become its president, a position he held for 36 years. Under Davis, the bank grew from a single branch with $1 million in assets to more than 30 branches across the state with over $800 million in assets. More importantly, it was instrumental in providing startup funding for many of Vermont’s most successful businesses and helped many residents buy their first homes.

For a bank CEO, Davis took a personal interest in his borrowers. “All the old-time entrepreneurs talk about how, when you needed money, you’d go in, meet with Dudley Davis,” says Eli Moulton, an attorney based in Burlington who helps small businesses raise capital. “He’d grill you on your business plan, and if he liked you, you got a loan. That world doesn’t exist anymore.”

As an editorial in Vermont Business noted after Davis passed away in late 2004: “He was famous for scheduling weekly board meetings and making his directors work. He was famous for knowing off the top of his head the condition of every commercial account at the bank. And he was famous for helping out a couple of guys named Ben and Jerry make it through the day with a creditor nipping at their heels.” Maybe, the piece concluded, “Dudley Davis was the last real banker ...

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