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Count on us to get it right, Mr. Silvia

INSIDE/OUT

For years now, my bank has been a running joke among the people I

know. Or rather, why I choose to stay with my bank is the joke. It’s

gotten to the point where all I have to do is say I’m having a

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problem with my bank, and everyone within earshot will burst into

laughter.

“Why do you stay with them if they’re so bad?” my co-workers or

friends ask me, to which I shrug my shoulders as if the question were

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a mystery without an answer.

And it does seem a mystery, given that I’m convinced I keep my

money in one of the worst-run financial institutions in the country.

Hardly a month goes by when I don’t have some new “you won’t believe

what my bank did this time” anecdote.

To name but a few:

There was the time, before direct deposit, when my bank suddenly

decided it was a good idea to start holding my paychecks a few days

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until they cleared. This I discovered one Friday night when I tried

to pay for a meal while out on a hot date, and my bank card was

returned to me by an extremely unamused maitre d’.

“Perhaps the gentleman has some other form of payment.”

“Try the card again -- I know it’s good,” I replied, the quiver in

my voice betraying my doubts because, well, I know my bank.

The maitre d’ returned a few minutes later, this time accompanied

by a pair of beefy bus boys. Before things got any uglier I produced

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another form of payment.

The next morning, I visited my local bank branch to find out what

the problem was. The bank officer patiently explained to me that it

was policy to hold checks above a certain amount until they’ve

cleared.

“But you’ve never held my paychecks before,” I said.

“Well, clearly, that was a mistake,” the bank officer replied.

“How can we know the check is good until we’ve had a chance to verify

it?”

“Because it’s the same paycheck I’ve deposited at this branch

every pay day for the past five years. The same paycheck from the

same company for almost the same amount for five years. You’ve cashed

it literally hundreds of times without a single problem. Doesn’t that

inspire any confidence in you at all?”

“No, sir,” the bank officer answered. “You have to understand that

these safeguards are in place for your security.”

I thought about telling him that this security measure almost got

me pummeled by two bus boys the night before. Instead, I found myself

restating my original argument, but slower this time.

“The same paycheck. From the same company. For five years.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that my bank is run by people who

flunked logic in college.

They apparently flunked math, too. How can I forget the time my

bank got it in its head to bounce my rent check?

“You people bounced my rent check!” I shouted when a customer

service representative finally picked up the phone. The

representative calmly asked me for some information then pushed some

buttons on her terminal. Clack, clack, clack.

“Yes, sir,” she said finally. “Our records show the check was

returned two days ago.”

“WHY did you bounce that check? It was a good check!”

“Just a moment, sir.” Clack, clack, clack. “Huh. Wow, that’s

weird.”

For the record, this is one of the last things you want to hear

from the people handling your money.

“Sir, I’m going to have my supervisor speak to you. Hold for just

a moment.”

A short time later, a deep, authoritative voice came on and told

me my check was returned in error.

“Not a problem, sir,” the voice continued. “I’ll go ahead and make

a notation on your account, and we’ll send you a letter of apology

that you can show to the check holder.”

“My landlady’s not going to care about that! This is a problem! A

huge problem! Get it together, people!”

But of course the problems continued -- some minor, some not so

minor. In the minor category was the time the bank issued me a new

bank card that spelled my last name Silvia, a goof-up that cost me no

end of lost time because I felt compelled to clarify the matter every

time a clerk handed back my card saying, “Thank you, Mr. Silvia.”

In the not-so-minor category was the time I ordered new checks and

the bank mailed them to the wrong address. The glitch resulted in my

account being frozen for more than a week until new checks could be

issued.

“What do you mean, I can’t withdraw any funds? Those aren’t any

funds! Those are my funds!”

The most recent error occurred when I noticed my ATM card was

about to expire and called the bank to ask when I’d be sent a new

one. The customer service representative politely told me a new card

would be sent out to me right away, and apologized for the delay.

But what I soon discovered -- again, by way of an extremely

unamused merchant -- was that when I ordered a new card, my bank

automatically canceled the one I was still carrying. The next day

found me standing in front of a bank officer, waving my canceled card

in the air and demanding a temporary one be issued.

“Not a problem, sir,” the officer told me, punching up my account.

Clack, clack, clack. “Huh. That’s weird.”

“What now?” I asked nervously.

“Well, I don’t see any record that you’ve requested a new card.

The representative you spoke to must have forgotten to enter it. No

problem. I’ll just do that now.”

It was a minor error, but after all the years of glitches and

gaffes and goof-ups, it was the final straw. I bowed my head for a

moment, then raised it.

“How -- how do you people stay in business?” I asked. “Do you see

that photograph on the wall over there?” I pointed to a matted photo

of a quaint, turn-of-the-century banking transaction. “That photo is

supposed to harken customers back to a better, happier time, a time

when you trusted that your bank knew what it was doing. That photo is

a lie. You want truth in advertising? Take a picture of my face right

now and put it up there. Eyes wide. Mouth hanging open in amazement.

Head shaking in frustration.”

The bank officer stared at me for a second, then started laughing.

It was the only thing he could have done to defuse the situation, and

after a moment, I was laughing with him.

And it was right then that it occurred to me why I continue to do

business with my bank after all the screw-ups. Most financial

institutions are fanatical in their attention to detail. They know

exactly what they’re doing at any given moment. You get your

statement from them in the mail and it’s accurate to within one

hundredth of a penny.

My money managers are happy if they remember to lock the front

door at night. And, though I know I won’t feel this way the next time

they screw up, part of me loves them for it. They’re just so --

human.

And just to show they can get the job done when they want to, in a

few short days they sent me my new ATM card in the mail.

In fact, they sent me three.

* DAVID SILVA, a Burbank resident and former Leader city editor,

is a Times Community News editor. Reach him at (909) 484-7019, or by

e-mail at david.silva@latimes.com.


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