On a scale from 1-10 on the “trust” meter, banks come in above U.S. congressmen but below local legislators. Today, they generously give us .o1% annual interest, meaning if you deposit $100 into a savings account, it will have grown to $100.01 – after one year. But many branches will offer you a bottle of water. I get it, the banking business has changed from the days when a little kids would bring in their piggy banks, crack them open and start a passbook savings account. It doesn’t work that way anymore.
I also realize there are rules and regulations that need to be followed, especially because the banks have violated the trust of the American people and as my mentor, the late John Savage used to say, “Trust, once violated, can never be regained.” Think about someone who screwed you over in some way. While you may have reconciled with this person, will you really ever completely trust them again?
What brought on this blog was an encounter yesterday at my bank, the bank I’ve done business with for the past 20 years or so. Our family currently has seven accounts at this bank of all kinds (business, savings, checking and debit). I’ve always had a banker (as well as people in other businesses with whom I deal on a regular basis, e.g. mechanic, handyman) whom I know extremely well for situations such as the one I faced yesterday. As we’ve moved, it’s of paramount importance that I find someone like that as soon as possible in each place of business, so I can count on a little “personal touch” to get me through red tape (nothing illegal, just to deal with petty annoyances). These acquaintances usually become friends and, if I can do them a favor, e.g. get a Michael Jordan autograph (a perk we get for working his summer camp) or taking them to lunch, I gladly do it.
At my visit yesterday I had two issues. I knew I was in trouble when the teller responded to my request for a new check register by saying, “We’re all out.”
I commented, “You’re a bank. You offer checking accounts. How can you be out of check registers?”
His response couldn’t possibly have come out of any training session. “People don’t use them anymore,” was his explanation.
“This one does,” I said to him, pointing at myself. His lack of reaction illustrated he was unaware that he might have offended me. Of course I realize that checks are going the way of the buffalo but there’s a difference between “going the way of the buffalo” and “having gone the way of the dinosaur.” There are companies I have to make payments to that I can’t do online, e.g. the pool guy, gardener, plumber, etc. And, maybe it’s my math background, but I like to make sure my checkbook balances.
So, we got off to a bad start. My two problems were with checks (see, others still use them too) that were mailed to our house. One was a claims settlement check our younger son got in one of those “somebody’s upset with a company and decides to sue” deals – except in this case, they actually won a settlement. When he or she discovers you also might have dealt with the same company, they send a letter notifying they’re going to sue and if you do not want to be a part of it, you need to let them know. Otherwise, do nothing and if they win their settlement, you’ll get paid as well. This one had to do with a company that offered a college fund we’d set up for him. Lo and behold, there was a settlement and he was mailed a check – for $12.85.
When my wife and I called and told him of his windfall, we all had a good laugh. As only college kids can do, he then asked if I could transfer the money to his account right away as his funds were getting a little low. So I did. When I related the story in the bank, the teller said I couldn’t cash the check because it had his name on it. Since our name isn’t very common, I asked if my son endorsed it, could I then cash it? Or deposit it if that would be better. “No,” he maintained. “Our policy won’t allow it.” Full disclosure: I’d done this on numerous occasions with bankers in the past – at this bank and others (for checks our two boys had received, maybe birthday gifts from relatives). I would sign whichever son’s name and get the check cashed. They were never for large amounts. This teller, however, was adamant. “This is the bank’s policy.”
The other check I had was an interest check on a bond my since deceased mother had purchased 15 years ago in our sons’ names. It had both their names on the check and was for $8.33. I figured the stance he took toward the first check foreshadowed an unhappy ending with this one but decided to forge ahead anyway. I explained that one son worked and lived in Newport Beach, while the other went to college in Monterey. Little did I know, in addition to denying my request, he was going to educate me with a tale of his own.
“In this case, at least one of your sons will need to be present,” he began. “Let me tell you a story. There was a couple who received their income tax refund check. In between the time they filed and when the check was issued, they got divorced. The husband came in and wanted to cash the check. I told him I couldn’t because both their names were on it.” Then, he looked at me and smiled. I imagine he felt this little fable would help me “see the light” and I’d fully understand his position.
I eyed him and said, “I’ll bet the check in your anecdote was for a bit more than eight bucks.” He sheepishly nodded. I went on, “Then, what, exactly, did you tell me that story for? It has nothing to do with what I’m asking. My sons aren’t divorcing, I’m not disowning them, they’re not even at odds with each other – and the check is for $8.33!” I couldn’t believe he wasn’t empowered to make a decision which, while technically against the rules, was just a slight customer service request from a longtime customer.
The episode reminded me of a situation the late Stephen Covey encountered with a desk clerk at a hotel when he was checking in. It was a similar situation and when he was told his request couldn’t be accommodated due to “company policy,” he told the desk clerk:
“I have a policy too. It’s called reasonableness.”