Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I Hate Banks

I hate banks. I haven't always hated banks. They used to be almost exciting places to visit. When I was a kid, I remember how awesome it felt to take my very first paycheck to the F&M bank in Ashland to make a deposit. I felt like such a big shot. I think the teller even gave me a lollipop. But now, although they still hand out lollipops, it's just not the same.

I am part of the problem since I am every banker's dream. . .the ultimate loyal customer who takes whatever they decide to dish out because the prospect of switching banks is so daunting, I don't dare even consider the prospect. When I first got married, I opened up my first grown-up account at Central Fidelity Bank, largely because they had a branch right down the street, and I didn't live in Ashland any longer. For ten years or so, Central Fidelity was perfectly fine. Then suddenly, for no discernible reason, my perfectly fine bank was purchased by a high roller outfit out of Charlotte, Wachovia. The transition was annoying but uneventful, and the new boss was promising the very, very best in modern banking technology. Before too long I discovered what this meant...monthly service fees. When I protested, they offered me a chance to do away with annoying fees forever if I signed up for a bank issued credit card. I did. For several years this worked well, then I discovered that in banking the word forever has a highly ambiguous, nuanced meaning. You see, my checking account fees got replaced by a raft of mysteriously appearing credit card fees. About the time I had had quite enough of this shell game, Wachovia started settling a series of Federal investigations into their activities. . . everything from cashing a ton of unsigned checks to serving as the number one launderer of Mexican drug cartel money! Then the financial crisis of 2008 brought them to the edge of insolvency. One minute my bank is the fourth largest in the country, the next minute they get bought/bailed out by Wells Fargo. Not the sort of thing that inspires confidence.

So, that's how I wound up with the stagecoach guys. At first, all was well. The employees at my branch of choice were friendly and helpful. I eventually refinanced my mortgage with them, and opened a line of credit. My kids opened their accounts with them. My business checking account is with them. Sure, I read the papers, I'm aware of the recent controversies regarding shady dealings and the huge settlement with the government. But hey, if I bailed every time my bank got into trouble, I would be on my twentieth bank by now. No, no. . .I'm loyal.

How do they repay me? A while back I noticed a service fee pop up on my business account. This account serves as a holding company basically, a place where I have random paychecks directly deposited so I can pay business related bills via bill pay, their automatic service. It's the most boring account I have. Not much happens there. I might actually write three or four checks a month. The average balance usually hangs in the low four figures. So, why on earth were they hitting me up for $14???? The friendly and helpful banker explained to me that there wasn't enough activity in the account. Incredulous, I looked her in the eye and with as much restraint as I could summon replied, "So, wouldn't that lack of activity mean that your bank had less to do to service the account? Why is this a bad thing?"

I know what you are all thinking. Why don't you close all of your accounts and find a better bank? Simple, when I add up all the automatic deposits, the fixed bill paying strategies I have employed at my bank, to unwind all of that financial architecture would be a headache which would require a name more menacing than migraine. My bank knows this full well. So, they exact their $14 pound of flesh from me every month. The bastards.

Maybe one day I'll snap. Some dim bulb at the home office will come up with a new fee for, I don't know, walking inside and using a teller, and I will flip out and in a fit of rage rip every dime from their greedy grasp. Then the problem will be finding a fair dealing bank to do business with, one that I don't have to drive halfway across town to.