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9/11 - how bankers beat terrorists

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

I've been told that for my generation, 9/11 is like the JFK assassination of my parent's generation. The memory is vivid and detailed. If a conversation starts with "so, what do you remember about 9/11?" The answer will generally come tumbling out in great detail and with tears.

So this is my story.

I was 35. We were living in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our 4 kids ranged in age from 6 to newborn. I worked for First Union Bank. The merger with Wachovia had just been consummated, but we still very much identified ourselves as First Union. Today, the bank is known as Wells Fargo.

Weather-wise, I remember a blue-sky day. Like one of those unusual late-summer, mid-Atlantic days that remind you fall is just around the corner. I remember a deep azure and cloudless blue sky. Absolutely stunning.

I was leading a Mortgage and Home Equity banking business. We were in the massive CIC building in North Charlotte. We were worried. It was not just the shock of what we saw unfolding on television. We quickly became aware of 2 relevant and scary facts related to potential follow-up attacks:

  1. The terrorist motivation to disrupt the U.S. financial system and

  2. In the U.S., the CIC was known as the 2nd largest single employer building... 2nd to the Pentagon.

I recall standing on desks and directing our teams to politely finish their client conversations, gather their personal belongings, and leave for the day. We got our folks on the road in record time. A feat in itself. In the weeks following, we drove closing loan packages to borrowers all over the U.S.

We were determined not to let the bastards beat us. We had a 'particular set of skills' that made us a danger to the terrorist's mission.

Everyone wanted to fight terrorism with our available tools. For my lending business, our superpower tools were getting loan proceeds into the hands of our customers and supporting our financial system. We believed supporting liquidity at the customer level was key. While the Fed almost instantly implemented low rates to provide liquidity, the financial system still had to operate to get cash into the hands of people. This is where my lending organization was particularly gifted.

The challenge was a “last mile” problem. With Fed Ex and UPS being grounded, the only way to do this was by individual loan package driving and delivery. Our teammates arranged client meetings at notaries to complete the closing and fund the loans. Our biggest state was California, we were based in North Carolina. It was a grueling month but rarely did anyone complain. My energized teammates wanted more....our mantra being "no customer left behind."

I was so proud of our leaders and teammates. It is so special when organizations become so aligned and focused. It reminds me of the great power and spirit of the team.


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