Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Banks do something else stupid... and, in other news, the Sun will rise tomorrow in the East. Unless a banker is put in charge of sunrise, that is....

After the Great Recession, when the banks nearly destroyed the national economy, you'd think that banks might be a little more -- I don't know -- cautious about doing stupid things.

You know, the next time the bankers destroy the economy one or more of them may actually go to jail.

But, apparently, I am ever the optimist -- failing to realize just how mind-numbingly stupid banks can be.

Today I went to my bank with the simple objective of depositing a check in my business account.

Now, you've been to a bank recently -- you know what they look like -- whether the decor is wood or marble, chrome or wrought iron, there are always four or five teller windows, and only one or two is ever open. A really big bank -- really big -- may have a dozen teller windows... with only three or four of them open.

No matter how many people are in line, right?

Even the grocery store knows enough to open a new register when the lines get too long. This will shock you, but I've actually seen this happen at the Post Office.

But never at a bank.

Well, this bank has some new, fancy wallpaper -- covered with slogans -- up on one wall now -- new since I was last there a couple of weeks ago (it's been a long time between checks for deposit, I know) -- and exactly no teller windows open.


This, by the way, was in the early afternoon. I hadn't broken in after hours or anything.

A banker walked up to me as I stood there puzzling over the complete absence of tellers. I didn't realize he was a "banker," of course. I took him for a greeter. A lot of banks have greeters these days. Just like Wal Mart, only younger. With the money banks make from nonsensical fees alone, they can afford to hire armies of greeters.

"Can I help you?" says the banker.

"I'd like to make a deposit." I gestured at the empty, closed teller counter.

The banker picked up on my meaning. He may have noticed the deposit slip and check in my hand. "We don't have tellers at this location anymore, sir."

This is still a bank, right? Some vestige of the good manners my mother taught me as a child prevented me from asking that question in the tone in which I'd have liked to ask it.

"I can show you how to use our ATM machine. Do you have an ATM card?"

"No, this is a business account," I said, "I don't have -- or want -- an ATM card."

"We have bankers handle all these transactions. I'll get you into see a banker as soon as one is available." He was carrying an iPad Mini on his arm -- maybe that's how he kept track of all the "bankers." Maybe he used it to play cards.

"We don't need dedicated tellers because we are cross-trained to do everything," he added.

"You do realize that that is the dumbest thing I've heard all day." My mother -- and my childhood -- have been gone a long time.

"Many banks are moving to this model," he told me, "but we still have some branches with tellers." He named one a few blocks out my way. At least it was still Downtown.

Somebody else came in at that point, also hoping to make a deposit. I watched the scene play out again.

"We're short-handed today. We have three bankers out with the flu." Well, we have had 50 degree temperature fluctuations here in Chicago in the past few days. That can get a lot of people sick. If bankers are people -- a mighty big if, mind you -- I suppose they wouldn't be immune.

Someone emerged from a cubicle. I don't know what he'd been doing in there. Undermining the economy, probably. But it freed up a live terminal for my helpful banker to take my deposit.


On the way to my next errand, the craziness of what I'd just witnessed sank in a little. Banks are moving to a model that does away with tellers? What next? Grocery stores doing away with food? Auto dealers doing away with cars? A bank is a place where you put money in or where you take it out... and they are moving away to a model that does away with people who actually handle money just so customers can meet with a "banker" on each visit? Why? So the "banker" can tout the unsuspecting customer on the dubious virtues of credit debenture swaps or whatever scam they dream up next on Wall Street?

They say the Great Recession is finally over. They say the economy is recovering. But the banks... and the unjailed bankers... are still here. Innovating insanely. Don't count on the recovery lasting any length of time.

And start keeping your money in your mattress.

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