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
problem with my bank, and everyone within earshot will burst into
“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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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 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
“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 --
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 email@example.com.