Friday, June 08, 2012

Bank Notes

I am aware that “Bank Notes” is probably misleading and the title of this little tale should more properly be “Notes on the Bank.” I’m sure I must have mentioned at least some of these “adventures” previously, but the latest change in the rules has inspired me to review my experiences with the bank. THE Bank here will remain nameless but I can tell you that it is one of those banks considered “Too Big to Fail.” I doubt if it is much different from any of the other large banks.

First, just a couple of relatively insignificant matters I might mention. I have had an account with this particular bank for more than 20 years. It is a branch of a mighty bank that happens to be in a small town where most everyone knows everyone else and the tellers are more than merely familiar with their customers. I was surprised one day to learn that I could no longer cash a third party check without the endorsement of the author of the check (even if it was my own wife), as I had been doing just that for years. But okay, a change in the rules, perhaps justified. Then a couple of years later I learned that I could no longer cash my own check made out to cash without also endorsing it on the back. Again, okay, a new rule, didn’t cost anything and perhaps there was a valid reason that I just did not understand.

But other things happened over the years that I found truly questionable. For example, I discovered one day there was a twelve dollar charge on my checking account every month that I did not understand. When I finally inquired about it I was told it was a charge for paying a couple of bills directly out of my account so I did not have to write and mail a check. This involved two payments only. I confronted the teller about this charge and was told it was for paying these bills automatically each month, a convenient service the bank was offering its customers. In fact, I was being charged twelve dollars for saving the price of two postage stamps! I no longer avail myself of this convenient service and the unfortunate teller that explained it to me was most apologetic and agreed immediately to waive the charge.

Then I received a mailer from the bank informing me that I could refinance an auto loan I had and get a lower interest rate. I inquired about this offer and learned that yes, I could do this, but there was a fee. It turned out that the fee amounted to more than the difference in interest that was involved. Angrily, I confronted the poor personally innocent clerk with the accusation that this was nothing but a scam. The embarrassed woman admitted that yes, it was.

Not long after this experience the bank attempted to institute a five dollar charge for the priviledge of using the ATM. I never use the ATM as I would never, under any circumstances, put a card or money into a slot on a building and expect the transaction to go smoothly. In any case the bank had to back down on this charge in the face of overwhelming outrage.

My next enlightening experience came when I discovered that if you had overdraft protection on your account, and if you appeared to be about to be overdraw, the bank would immediately and as a customer service, advance you three hundred dollars. They would do this even before you were actually overdrawn and/or even if you were overdrawn by one dollar. Of course their charge for this convenience was 21% for the full $300! Clever, these bankers.

The latest attempt at some kind of chicanery happened just this month when I discovered a new fifteen dollar charge for a “maintenance fee.” This charge had never appeared previously nor had I been in any way forewarned that it was coming. Once again I girded my loins (or whatever you do when preparing for battle) and confronted the teller (who happened to be also a good friend of many years standing). Embarrassed, and with no hesitation, she immediately dismissed it as something of no consequence that she would immediately have removed from my statement. She told me I would have to consult one of the other employees to take care of it. They were all busy so I had to wait. The Bank Manager, who was also a long standing friend saw me waiting and inquired as to why I was there. I told her and she immediately dismissed the problem as totally unimportant and assured me she would personally take care of it. I greatly appreciated this attention and their immediate willingness to eliminate the charge. But it is obvious to me they knew they would be confronted by angry customers, and they also knew the charge was little more than an attempt to take advantage of the unwary. I truly wonder how many of their customers are now unknowingly paying this completely unnecessary fee. I am sure if you did not complain you would be so charged.

I do not know what their next attempt will be, I fully expect one day to be charged for “wear and tear on the waiting area,” or perhaps a parking fee, or maybe a charge for being improperly dressed when approaching a teller, maybe even a fine for failing to genuflect. Banks are not only too big to fail, they are too big to be allowed to exist.

“Patience. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward, but misfortune cannot last forever. The time is ripe and soon we shall strike our blow.”

W. Somerset Maugham

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