Bigger By De-Vault

Two very noisy events last week:

1. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finally closed above 9000, and we've deluged you with coverage on the concept these last two weeks, so I won't waste much ink on it here. But read to the end for a brief note.

2. The Travelers Group and Citicorp announced intent to merge. If approved, the merger would be the biggest ever - $80-plus billion - and has generated lots of talk about one-stop financial services, the universal bank, and other thrilling insights into the future.

Guy Halverson is skeptical. He writes for us out of New York, and he suspects the bankers will get the thrill, while you get most of the bill. Turn to B3 for the details.

Skeptical or not, though, the trend is definitely toward bigger banks and higher fees.

Because the trend, unfortunately, is me.

Unfortunate, because customers like me encourage bankers to raise fees for the rest of you. And I apologize. It's nothing personal.

But bankers love me. They fling flowers in my path, knit their brows when I get a flat tire, and make sure I know what to do if I have a touch-tone phone.

I am the goal of bank marketeers. I never stand in a teller line, never ask to see the manager, never ask a bank employee to look up my balance or today's date. I don't take the free lollipops.

I never go to the bank. Never.

I can't. I live in Boston. My bank is headquartered in Omaha, Neb., with my branch in my former hometown, Denver.

And that's just fine. My employer can direct-deposit my paycheck faster than I can walk it across the street to a local bank. The bank sends out most bill payments automatically, and I take care of the rest by touch-tone telephone.

And if I want more visual access to my account, I can fire up the computer.

Other banks offer similar services, but why switch? The fees are low enough to keep me from whining. I rarely lick an envelope or write a check.

Which makes me cheap. No, not that kind of cheap. (Well, OK, that kind, too ... You been talking to my wife?) But I don't cost the bank much money. It doesn't need employees to deal with me - just plug in some computers and cue the voice mail.

And the banks figure that those of you who do require the bricks and mortar, personal contact, and lollipops on the teller counter are expensive, so they charge more money for those services.

Bankers want everyone to be like me, which is a truly frightening thought for people who actually know me.

And on that note, another somewhat frightening event: the Dow at 9000.

US investors have become so accustomed to stock market gains that many expect it: Dow 9000 is a point on the journey from 8000 to 10000.

And given the US economy, there's not much reason to expect otherwise. It's a juggernaut.

But listen to David McClain, economic adviser to Babson United Inc., a Boston-area investment firm.

He cautions that the US shares the planet, and Asia still presents some serious uncertainty. Asian markets look more encouraging than last October, but they're not out of the woods. And last October, they showed potential to send Wall Street to the wall.

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