It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

That statement, “It doesn’t have to be that way,” is the label on my “berserk button.” My bank has been reminding me of that. The number of inconsistencies in how they handle a misdirected check deposit has me livid at a time when I should be focused on other things, like a religious holiday or an impending move to a new city.

My wife deposited one of my paychecks for me, as a favor. Alas, she used the wrong ATM card, so the ATM assumed she wanted to deposit it in her own account, on which I am not a signatory. This was an ATM at the bank branch a quarter mile from our house, but it turns out that’s irrelevant. She realized her mistake immediately; we assumed she’d just transfer the money to an account on which both she and I are signatories.

For better or for worse, the bank “back office” recognized that FDIC regulations wouldn’t let her deposit a check made out to me into an account held by her without a lot of language on the check formally signing over the check to me. So, they reversed the deposit from her account. Apparently this was Monday morning; my memory of this timing apparently is faulty.

I can imagine several things the “back office” might have done.

  • Send me the check via a courier. (“OMG Mr. Laflamme! Some woman tried to deposit your check into her account! This is a big check; we want you to have it back immediately!”)
  • Called me and asked what I wanted them to do.
  • Sent this check to the local branch, the one a quarter mile from my home, the one in whose parking lot the ATM was, since banking is such a personal business and my friendly neighborhood banker would clearly take delight in handing me the check for me to turn around and hand to a bank teller.
  • Figured out that this was the sixth check of this size from the same account and noticed that each of those prior checks was deposited to either my personal savings account (once) or a joint checking account, and just deposited the check there on the grounds that if this wasn’t what I intended, it was easily and quickly remedied.
  • Recognized that the woman who deposited this check into an account on which I’m not a signatory has at least one joint account at that same back with me and deposited that check into that account, again, on the grounds that if this wasn’t what I intended, it was easily and quickly remedied.
  • Sent the real paper check to the bank that issued that check, even though the check hasn’t actually been credited to an account yet, and sent a paper copy of the check “image” to me via snail mail, so that 7-10 business days later, or up to two weeks after the initial deposit was attempted, I could attempt to deposit it again.

What’s that, you say? I must be a paranoid cynic to come up with an option as convoluted as the last one? No, I’m not imaginative. That’s what’s happening.

My wife, of course, feels horrible about her mistake. In turn, I feel horrible that when we got married, we merged our finances into the bank at which I was banking, not the bank she was using. I’m not saying that the bank with the stagecoach and horses wouldn’t have done the exact same thing, but at least I wouldn’t feel like it was my fault we were doing business with such a monolithic bureaucracy.

So, do we have a choice? Is there a bank that’s not so bureaucratic and monolithic that this delay and frustration and anger and distraction was inevitable? Maybe, but I figure that any bank that is so personal must be seen by the bean-counters as a ripe target for take-over, so that some monolithic bureaucracy can teach them how to be efficient and make a larger profit for the bank holding company’s stock holders, customers be damned.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m still listening to the audio book of the compilation of Fortune magazine articles about Warren Buffett. The more I listen, the more I dwell on the inconsistencies, such as the man’s issue with “fractional costs,” while his own stockholders have to sell their stock to benefit from the company’s increase in value instead of, say, depositing a dividend check in a checking account.

Using the correct ATM card, of course.

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