In some parts of the world, the national postal system will distribute posters to its outlets with a picture of a hardened criminal and a caption that reads: “Avoid This Person. Dangerous.”
In this part of the world, the national banking system distributes posters to its outlets with a picture of me and a caption that reads: “Annoy, Frustrate, Harass and Irritate This Person. In Fact, Go out of Your Way to Drive this Person Absolutely Bonkers, So That She Runs Screaming from the Building.”
Okay, maybe banks aren’t out to get me quite that much. But there are days — and I suspect I’m not alone in thinking this — when I believe that going to the dentist would be less painful than a trip to the bank.
Take, for example, the simple act of making a deposit. First of all, this is the 21st century, a time of computers, cell phones and Palm Pilots. My car is stuffed with microchips. Refrigerators can talk to the Internet. What do banks give out for a deposit book? A wad of forms and a sheet of crinkly carbon paper.
It is also impossible to fill out this deposit book correctly. I know this because every time I take it in, I’m told that since my last visit, Bank Policy has changed, and my deposit book is now wrong. Bank Policy, you should know, is decided by a highly scientific practice which factors in inflation, socioeconomic conditions and the Dow Jones average through a process known as: Spin The Bottle.
Then there are the service charges. As nearly as I can tell, the bank charges people when they:
1) Take money out of their account.
2) Put money in their account.
3) Look at money in a wistful way.
4) Think about money
5) Walk into the bank.
6) Walk out of the bank.
7) Walk by the bank.
I’m not sure who first came up with the idea of bank service charges, but I’m sure the board meeting of it’s inception went like this:
BARTLEBY: Gentlemen, we need to make more money. Does anyone have any ideas?
JONES: I don’t know sir, but I tell you, if I had a nickel for every time a customer—
BARTLEBY: Jones! That’s brilliant! How would you like to be a senior vice-president?
Of course, service charges don’t include interest fees. In case you didn’t know, interest is applied to your loan through the magic of something called front end loading. It’s called this because when you get your loan statement and see how much interest you paid instead of principle, you feel like you’ve been hit by the front end of a bus.
Banks also have what I call “selective memory.” You can bank at the same institution, the same branch, even, for 20 years. Over this time, your bank will have recorded your every financial move: every cheque, every payment, every penny you ever stooped to pick up. Each week, you’ll get junk mail from them addressed to you, the Valued Customer. But when it’s time to actually request a loan, you will still have to fill out a 20 page application form, and be subjected to a credit check, a investigation of your entire family right down to your 53rd cousin, and possibly a body cavity search.
Banks are the reason why I don’t believe conspiracy theories — you know, the ones where secret organizations wire money to operatives overseas. Why? Because banks “hold” foreign deposits. For instance, I can deposit a US cheque in my US dollar Canadian account, but I can’t touch the money until the cheque “clears.” The bank must query the US account by messenger pigeon, because this process can take up to three months.
My absolute worst banking experiences though, always involve currency exchange. Like the time I billed a British client of mine for $92.00 US, and was paid £63.00. I was expecting a direct conversion from pounds to dollars, but I forgot about Bank Policy.
The bank teller executed a complicated transaction which apparently involved converting from pounds to … yen, then to drachmae and I’m pretty sure shekels came into it somewhere. And in the end, I was handed: 40 cents Canadian. I think that’s when I broke down and sobbed on the wicket. That’s also when the bank teller high-fived his boss and went to collect the reward listed on that poster I mentioned.
And now you know where the expression “and he laughed all the way to the bank” came from.