"A Memorable Experience"

Submitted by Paul Comissiong, International Banking


After twelve years of service, in various capacities, at Barclays Bank International in Trinidad, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and British Guiana, my wife Ella and I emigrated to Detroit with two young daughters, Dianne and Kerry in September, 1965. The choice of Detroit was due to the fact that Ella had relatives here.


Since Ella's sister is married to a nephew of Al Werner, a former Vice-President of Manufacturers National Bank of Detroit (now deceased), Al suggested that I visit the Personnel Department where I met Bill Goudie. Bill found a spot for me in Trust Accounting and my first day on the job was October 5, 1965.


I can appreciate Dick Heiss' recollection which I quote......." In 1966, a major conversion of the Trust Accounting System took place, added employees and long hours. Fortunately, I was not a part of it."  Well, I was a part of it and remember well that we worked on New Year's Day 1966 in an attempt to meet the conversion date deadline which, unfortunately, was not met.


Early in 1966, I was "rescued" by George Guiliani and Tom Ouellette as an opening in the Letter of Credit Division of the International Department became available. Having had various positions with Barclays Bank International, among them being, Foreigh Exchange Teller, Branch Manager in Jamaica and with my last position being, Letter of Credit Manager in British Guiana, I was better suited for a position in the International Department.


Bill Blomme became my manager sometime in the late 1960's and we worked together until he retired in 1992. His recollections, however, did not mention another critical aspect of the Letter of Credit operation and that is, the careful examination of documentation presented for payment under letters of credit.


An example of this is as follows:


An Italian Bank issued a letter of credit, through Manufacturers National Bank of Detroit, in favor of the old Vesley Farm in Lapeer (the farm was then owned by an Italian Company). The letter of credit covered a shipment of cows from Detroit Metro Airport to Milan, Italy and required, as one of the shipping documents, an Inspection Certificate signed by a named representative of the buyer in Italy.


After shipment of the cows was effected, the required shipping documents were presented to us at the Renaissance Center for payment. The documents were checked by our Document Examiner and found to be in compliance with the terms and conditions of the letter of credit. Payment was effected to the farm in Lapeer and the shipping documents were forwarded to the Italian Bank.


To our surprise, in about two weeks, we received a claim from the Italian Bank requesting a refund of the entire amount paid due to the fact that some of the cows shipped were not inspected by the buyer's named representative and that the Inspection Certificate for these cows was signed by an unknown individual. This is a legitimate discrepancy in the Inspection Certificate and was obviously overlooked by our Document Examiner. Clearly grounds for refusal, by the Italian Bank, to pay.


We had to quickly get up to speed on the whole aspect of bovine exportation and it was determined that once cows are inoculated for hoof and mouth disease and are exported, they can never be returned to the U.S.A. These cows were inoculated, therefore, our first course of action was to offer to refund the total amount paid, provided the Italian Bank would arrange to reship all of the cows by air freight to Detroit. Of course, we knew that this was not

possible since the cows were inoculated.


We also determined that "our" cows were placed on board of the same aircraft as another shipment of similar cows, however, bad weather was experienced on the flight over to Milan and many of the identification tags on the cows were torn off, therefore, there was a problem in determining which cows belonged to which buyer in Milan so the Italian Bank was seeking some reason for refusal to pay.


In the meantime, Bill Blomme and I drove up to the farm in Lapeer to discuss the matter. We were met by the Italian Manager (who unfortunately wore two hearing aids) at his offices which overlooked a large pasture. As Bill would do from time to time, he allowed me to explain our position to the manager and attempt to negotiate some sort of settlement of the matter while he was attracted to the large picture window and the pastoral activity beyond. There was a large bull doing what bulls are known to do while in the pasture. Bill obviously found this activity to be much more interesting than discussing the fate of cows in Milan, Italy.


The manager admitted that five of the cows were not inspected by the buyer's representative and that was verified by us. An offer of a refund of the value of the five cows was made to the Italian Bank and this was accepted in final settlement of this transaction.


This is just one of many events which made my experience at the International Department of Manufacturers National Bank of Detroit most memorable.


I continued on as Letter of Credit Manager after the merger in 1992, then focused on the expanding Standby Letter of Credit operation and consultancy, retiring as Vice President in 1997.


Paul A. Comissiong