Someone told me it

Banks. What on earth is going on with banks? You remember banks, don’t you? They’re the places where they keep the money. Or at least, they used to be. Today, I have no idea what is going on with the banking system. It hit home with me, while watching the boob-tube one evening. ( I never said I was perfect. ) A very annoying commercial came on. It is a commercial for an outfit called “Citizen Bank”, and it has been running “ad-nauseum” for some time.

It’s one of those television ads that makes any person of a nominal I.Q. go “AAARRRGHHH”! You know, the ones that make you have an almost overpowering urge to hurl a blacksmith anvil through the TV screen, sort of like Wile E. Coyote would do in this situation. ( Or, at the least, use that wonderful “mute” feature on the remote ) Everyone knows of at least one commercial that provokes this reaction.

Citizen Bank is one of those behemoth corporate banks that has “assimilated” lord-knows how many small, nice banks over the past five years, to the point where they are now the dominate banking force in New England. This TV ad shows a white suburban mommy, in her SUV ( of course ) with her two beautiful children in the back. I’m talking picture-perfect kiddies here. Lord forbid they should be overweight, or (Gasp!) racially mixed. The kiddies are looking out the windows, and nudging each other on the shoulder, while saying “Saw One”! in an excited voice, while some wretched music plays. It’s obviously a corrupted version of a time-killing game that most of us played as youngsters, usually while on long car rides. But, we were counting station wagons, or fire hydrants, or convertibles. Not these kids. No, they are counting Citizen Bank ATM’s!!!!. AAARRRGHHH!!! I am guessing there are two points to this ad: one is to show upper-end suburbanites ( A “Coveted Market”) how many ATM locations Citizen has, “for your convenience”. That’s obvious. The other is more insidious: It’s to get kids interested in using ATM’s. This is sort of like when McDonalds gives grade-school kids tours of their restaurants, and proudly gives the kiddies souvenir paper hats. I’m sorry, but this smacks of an indoctrination worthy of the very best ( or worst ) that Stalin or Hitler could conjure up. Big corporate banking chains have already hooked the adult population on using ATM’s. Now, they’re after your kids. Nice, real nice.

Personal Note here: Citizen Bank assimilated what had been my bank, eighteen months ago. Almost overnight, the service degraded. Lines became long, with typical wait times for a transaction sometimes exceeding twenty minutes. I know, I timed it several times on my geekazoid digital watch. I cannot even guess how many trees this outfit has killed, to send out their endless mailings, telling the world how great and wonderful they are. Often, the tellers ( Uh, customer service reps, in Newspeak ) seemed as though they have just fallen off the dumb tree, and convey an attitude that says “I’m making five bucks an hour, and I’d rather be doin some bones with my buds”. Many of the teller stations were frequently un-staffed. The previous bank management didn’t have any problem with staffing. This didn’t work for me, and to top it off, free checking vanished, replaced with a system that had more fees than the IRS. Oh yes, they apparently were toying with the idea of charging you a fee, if you actually entered the bank, to deal with a human being, instead of using an ATM. Other behemoth bank chains have done this in other parts of the country, and pulled it off. This plan was apparently shelved, due in part to the banking laws of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Guess they can do some things right here after all.

My response: I pulled my accounts from Citizen, and I now do my banking with one of the few remaining small, community-oriented banks. The tellers are courteous, well-trained, and just plain decent, and there is never a wait of more than two or three minutes. I see the same faces every time I make a transaction. And they don’t “push” their ATM’s of which they have very few. When I go in, it almost feels as though I am doing something wrong. Good, solid customer service! What a concept. What did Citizen Bank do, when myself and a horde of customers pulled our accounts out? Nothing. No surprise. For a micro-second, I thought I might at least get a letter from an “assistant Vice president of consumer relations” or some other suit with a title. But no, not even that.

What’s next? I suppose they’ll be installing Citizen Bank ATM’s in middle schools, or possibly in elementary schools. Sure, why not? Then little Bobby and Susie, ( Justin and Heather, in Newspeak ) will be issued colorful little ATM cards, so they may bank their allowance’s at school. Be funny though, if the fees Citizen charges when you use one of their ATM’s runs more than the kids actually have. What then? One must assume that the kids will be paying into Citizen until, well, whenever. My question is the same as always: Why are we putting up with this crap, and how much longer will we take it in the rear? Aren’t you beginning to feel just a little like the Ned Beatty Character in the classic movie, “Deliverance”? ( And yes, Burt Reynolds can act, when given a decent part. )

I remember a time when my mother took my sister and myself, as little tykes, to her bank, and opened savings accounts for us. To a ten-year-old, it was great! I think I had about ten bucks in saved allowance money, and change from deposit bottles I had cashed, to deposit in my new account. I was given a passbook by a smiling lady behind a desk. My mother explained that the bank was a “serious place”, and expected us to act accordingly. We did. Lord help us if we didn’t. (Parents actually had control over their kids in public back then. A strange concept by today’s standards.)

That bank was a small one, with only one location. The tellers and managers knew pretty much everyone that came in through the doors. One time, when I was a little older, I went by myself to deposit some more money I had earned doing yard work. The bank was having a party, to honor a woman who was retiring after having worked there as a teller for thirty years. Oh yes, I made my deposit, and had some cake. Nice.

Today, I cannot imagine this happening. Being a bank teller in one of the huge banking chains, is what is called a “high turnover” position. No one is going to do this job for thirty years. Executives, if you ever see them, job hop almost as much. Oh yes, at these big corporate banks, if you ask to speak to a manager, you will be quickly told that he ( or she ) is in a meeting, or not available. Now what are the odds that all the people with decision making authority are in meetings every time a customer wants to see one of them? Apparently, at these banking outfits, the odds are pretty good. As for the people at the top of the bank management ladder, well, I don’t know if they even exist, since they are totally invisible. Oh sure, you see their portraits in the company mailings and glossy publications, but actually meeting the top-level executives is an extreme rarity. One must wonder if there are only nicely furnished, empty offices, so they can make nice pictures for the annual report.

I’ll finish with this comment: A lot of you are probably thinking, “I do my banking on-line, and I avoid the entire problem. Why don’t you do the same?” Well, if you are brave enough to do your banking on-line, more power to you. But the banking system plays a necessary part of our entire economic system. With the big banks being so messed up on the front lines, one can only wonder just how deep the problem is, and how long it will be before there are a lot of failures in the economy. ( And if you are banking on-line, you might want to double check your banks security system. Lord only knows who is in charge of that. ) If the economy slides back into a deep recession, as it did ten years ago, I am predicting that a lot of the big time suits at these huge banking companies will be on the first planes to the Caymen islands, or Switzerland, or someplace where they cannot be touched, and probably carrying large amounts of cash that used to belong to you and I. Of course, that’s just a theory of mine.

The ads coming on. Quick, someone hand me a blacksmith anvil.

Bruce Black

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