Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Finances and Responsibility

At one point in my career, I worked as a bank branch operations manager. It sounds a lot more prestigious than it really was. I handled customer service issues that the tellers couldn’t immediately handle, made sure that each teller had appropriate amounts of cash on hand throughout the shift, helped tellers periodically balance out, managed safety deposit access, and helped with required reports. I didn’t actually manage anyone.

One of the main features of the bank where I worked was to supplement low salary with prestige. Lots of people that wore nice clothes to work, sat at nice looking desks, and had nameplates with important sounding titles really didn’t make much money. One of the things that caused me to search for other job opportunities was when I realized how little many of the bank’s long-term titled employees were earning.

One day a hot looking Corvette pulled into the parking lot. The driver climbed out wearing a black leather jacket, shades, tight jeans, and leather boots. I noticed some of the female tellers eyeing his build, chiseled features, and wavy dark hair as he sauntered into the building. Not only did this guy drive a Vette, he looked every bit the part.

He came to my desk complaining about nine bounced check charges that he said were erroneous. He said that merchants had piled on more charges of their own. I said that I’d be glad to help. I asked him to explain how he knew that the charges were improper. He showed me his checkbook register and said that his records showed that he still had money in his account.

I pulled up the guy’s account records and saw that he was dramatically overdrawn. In fact, it looked like he hadn’t achieved a positive balance for months. The balance in his check register bore no resemblance to the bank’s records.

When I explained the balance mismatch as diplomatically as possible, Mr. Corvette nonchalantly said that he had at one point written his overdraft protection amount in as a deposit. He simply considered the monthly overdraft charges to be acceptable fees. These monthly charges were pretty high. It had never previously crossed my mind that anyone would consider purposefully paying them month after month.

I pulled this man’s last couple of bank statements and asked him to show me where he felt the bank had erred. He became irritated and said that he had no idea where the bank had messed up because he hadn’t reconciled his checkbook for those months. Looking at his register, I said that I’d be happy to do the reconciliation for those two months, but I needed him to show me where he had completed the previous month’s reconciliation.

At this point, the fellow looked at me with contempt and said that he had never reconciled his account in the six years he had had it. But he insisted that his math was accurate and that the bank’s math wasn’t. I realized that the only way to find any possible error would be to reconcile the customer’s check registers against the bank’s records for six years running. The charges about which he was angry may well have stemmed from a miscalculation five years earlier. Unfortunately, the man no longer had his past check registers. So, even that avenue was closed.

I explained that without evidence, I had to consider the bank’s records to be accurate. Bank policy did allow me to reverse duplicate charges where some merchants had tried to submit the same check twice, resulting in two bounced check charges. But there was no way I would be permitted to cancel all of the charges.

Anger flashed in the man’s dark eyes. He said, “I have been a good customer of this bank for six years, but now I am going to take my business somewhere else!” I wanted to say that his statement would be true if he dropped the word good, but instead I said that I would surface his concerns to the main customer service department. He then said that he wanted to close his account. I explained that he would have to expunge the negative balance before the bank could close the account.

The unhappy customer grumbled something, stalked out of the bank, jumped into his Corvette, and drove away. For a long time afterward I wondered what I could have done differently to provide a better outcome. I finally concluded that I had done everything possible to help this man, but that his poor financial discipline prevented a happier result.

Life is like that. Sometimes we make poor choices that prevent good outcomes down the road. It is natural to be angry and lash out when the consequences of these unfortunate choices strike. But the path from that point will be much better if we accept personal responsibility for our choices.


Anonymous said...

Not that I haven't enjoy all of your posts. It is nice to see you do a political post again. I enjoyed the symbolism.

I am being a little tongue in cheek here. I don't really think you meant this symbolically, but it sure seems to fit with our political situation right now.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I've been avoiding political commentary on this site for a couple of months now. Maybe I will do a post to explore where I am at in my thinking on political topics.

I hadn't really thought of this post as having a political slant. But certain basic financial principles have universal application.