Monday, October 1, 2012

A Bad Case of JBS

I’m not really sure what to think about my bank.

Well, no, that’s not quite true.  I know exactly what to think about the institution that claims to be the responsible steward of my money.  There are good, intelligent people working there, some of whom I enjoy visiting with whenever I end up going inside, but banks as institutions are Jurassically stupid things whose main institutional achievement is their ability to survive in spite of themselves for extended periods of time.

If you’re looking for an institution that can single-handedly provide all the ammunition you need against the virtues of the free market, the supposed wisdom of modern management techniques, the value of an MBA, the entire theory of Social Darwinism, and the notion that the accumulation of capital is a sign of God’s favor, you have to look no further than the nearest bank.

And if you do look, chances are that you will see that bank doing something catastrophically stupid right now.  Even as you read this!  Go ahead and check.  I’ll wait.

See?  Told you so.

We’ve done our banking at the same physical location since before Kim and I were married.  When she moved to Our Little Town nearly two decades ago, Kim opened up her accounts in what was then Your Friendly Neighborhood Bank.  They were local, and thus relatively protected from Jurassic Bank Stupidity, which tends to get worse as institutional size gets larger.

Unfortunately, YFNB was bought out fairly shortly after that by Big State Bank.  They kept most of the same people, so when I moved up here we kept our accounts with them.  You could see the symptoms of JBS getting worse over time, though. 

My most memorable experience with JBS was when I tried to pay off the overdraft protection that I had incurred one month.  They had this very nice set-up where if you exceeded your checking account balance, they would put money into it to cover the check, up to whatever limit you were willing to sign up for.  They started charging interest from the moment of deposit, which is how they made their money, but it was a nice service anyway.  You got a bill at the end of the month and you sent a check to the main office in the big city. 

One time it didn’t work. 

After much investigation, it turned out that Big State Bank had received my check, but had decided that my goal in writing it was not to pay off any outstanding overdraft loan.  Instead, I was informed, my goal had clearly been to write a check, put it into an envelope, affix first-class postage and send it off to another city so that the money could be withdrawn from my checking account and deposited back into that same account.

This I found puzzling.

The years flew by, however, and with only the occasional outbreak of JBS symptoms we remained relatively happy with Big State Bank. 

Then they got bought by International Banking Conglomerate.

It was bad enough when IBC decided to donate vast sums of money to Governor Teabagger during the Great Subversion last year – we began to investigate alternate places for our money at that point, but events and life intervened and we never did get around to doing anything about it.  We may do so now that IBC has begun officially wiping all traces of our old bank away – they’re even going to change the name on the buildings, from what I hear.

I could handle that part.

But a few days ago I got a letter containing a flash drive.  A blank one.

There was an accompanying letter explaining that IBC was going to eliminate all of Big State Bank’s online presence entirely, including all of our records that we only have access to online since they stopped sending us paper statements two years ago, but if we so desired we could download those records onto this handy flash drive for safekeeping.  But not all of those records – you only get the last 45 days.


I’m not sure what happens next, other than the search for a new home for our money beginning in earnest.  Perhaps that’s their goal too.  If so, they have succeeded.


Susan said...

My bank is not actually a bank, but a credit union, which they use as a defense for any number of ridiculous policies and interpretations. As a joint account holder with my husband (the original account holder), I can close the account, withdraw large sums of money, do pretty much anything, but if I attempt something really outrageous, like getting an ATM card, I need his permission. Can't tell you how many times I've protested being treated as his chattel, to no avail.

vince said...

My little bank was swallowed up by a bigger bank, who then let us know about all sorts of new charges, including a charge for statements, even those delivered electronically.

I moved to our credit union, and couldn't be happier. I'm not in agreement with every policy they have, but they don't try to nickle-and-dime me to death, and control is completely local.

Eric said...

I am unhappy with my bank much of the time now. But. The bank I'm banking with is the successor-in-interest to the successor-in-interest to the bank where I opened my very first banking accounts when I was a teen. I feel the pull of a history that may or may not be there. And. When the current successor-in-interest took over, it coincidentally meant that my mortgage and car payment were under one roof with my checking and savings, which is convenient. And. And I do direct deposit and have at least two bills that are automatic draft, and it would be a headache to start changing things and temporarily juggle multiple banks while making sure a transition went smoothly.

But, y'know, the real bitch of it is this, actually: I didn't necessarily mind that my bank was an Evil Faceless Corporation(TM) because they were my Evil Faceless Corporation, which had always been nice to deal with and full of pleasant people at the points where I interface with them. Until. Until, and this is the part that gets me rankled: when the various banking and real estate crises came up, my Evil Faceless Corporation Bank suddenly started withdrawing various perqs, one by one, and charging various chisling little fees for things that had been free.

Which is irritating, when one side unilaterally changes the deal and tells you, however politely, you can suck it up or hit the highway, decades of successive relationships ain't nothin', this is just business.


Except what really rankles is that when I get past my emotional reaction of feeling stiffed and backstabbed, it can't help crossing my mind that what my Evil Faceless Corporation is doing is actually responsible, especially compared to some of the policies and practices of their rival EFCs as they scramble to figure out how to make a profit now that the goose that laid the golden eggs has been decapitated, stuffed with nuts and breadcrumbs, and roasted for several hours. They ought to be charging some of the fees they're sticking me with, so long as they don't get excessive with it.

That they might be behaving reasonably and what I've come to expect as a right during two successive bubbles when banks were flush and making good money from extending cheap credit--somehow that's worst of all.

There's simply moments these days when I think stuffing all my money in a mattress might really be the way to go.

Nathan said...

I canceled all of my "paperless billing" setups about a year ago including my bank statements. If anybody wants me to pay them anything, they can send me paper that I can hold onto.

Interestingly, I'm continually finding discrepancies between the online statements and the paper ones. Go figure.

Janiece said...

I've been with a local Credit Union for 16 years, and the Navy Credit Union befire that. Fir profit banks will NEVER get my money.

David said...

Apparently JBS is a widespread condition. Color me shocked!

Susan - I get that way with credit card companies. They're happy to let me write the checks and handle the paperwork, but when I want to discuss, say, putting a travel notice on the account suddenly I'm not good enough and they need to talk to Kim. Maybe JBS is a general condition among financial institutions.

Eric - I wouldn't mind if my bank were an Evil Faceless Corporation if they weren't such a Stupid Faceless Corporation. Plus, the bank where I had my very first account got so screwed up after several successors-in-interest that I had to threaten to sic lawyers on them to get them to stop harassing me, so no sentiment there.

Nathan - I have no paperless billing. At all. NONE. I refuse to let any creditor have access to my bank account. They'll get paid by me, by check, when I damn well say so. Unfortunately, I was given no paper-statement option by IBC when they took over - they simply announced that paper statements would no longer continue, which is why it is so annoying that now they want to make the digital copies go away too.

Tom said...

I guess I'm an exception to the general feeling about banks. Maybe its because my bank isn't a bank. My bank is a Group Insurance company. Then don't charge me for things, and I have their credit card (just the one). They also have my car insurance and house insurance, my savings, a Roth IRA, and are about to have my old Fidelity IRA, too. Fidelity wanted to charge me $12 because I only had $1882 worth of a Fidelity Mutual Fund in my IRA. If you held less than $2000 of one of their funds, charge. I'm in the process of saying FU to F. I like my bank, and I expect I'll be staying with them. I've been with them for more than 20 years, and they have yet to do anything stupid. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

We want to switch to a credit union, but they don't do commercial banking. And since TheHusband owns his own business, using a single bank makes sense. We, too, had banked with a local bank for years, and we were (fairly) happy. Then it was taken over by a large conglomerate bank, and now they are instituting bizarre charges and new (incomprehensible) rules.

For example, TH wanted to open a small overdraft protection on his business account. Only $1000. We were shocked to find out that it was denied. When we questioned it, we found out that the bank person had applied for $30,000 overdraft protection on our behalf. $30,000? WTF? Of course we were rejected. When we tried to explain very reasonably that we didn't want that much, we were told that for even small business banking the minimum overdraft protection is $10K. (Still not sure how $10K got increased to $30K.) We chose not to apply for that.

Next week we will be opening accounts at a new bank, a local one. We'll see how long *that* lasts.

Anonymous said...

The above comment is me (neurondoc). It wouldn't let me sign on with google.

David said...

Well, good luck with the new bank. I wonder if banks are what Lawrence Peter was thinking about when he created the Peter Principle. You have to get them before they rise to their level of incompetence.