In order to avoid relative high banking fees on a low bank balance, I had to save up quite a bit of money in my Dime Savings Bank account before I opened up an account at Chase Manhattan Bank many years ago. How many years, I prefer not to say, but the Dime representative had to explain that I would not get the same twenty dollar bills back if I asked for them. I eventually got my dream account at Chase Manhattan. I never accumulated a high enough balance to qualify myself for special treatment in the transaction area for rich Chase Manhattan customers, but Chase Manhattan was a prestigious place for working folk to bank back then, or at least I thought so when I was dirt poor. And it seemed to be a safe place to keep your money, an important factor given my father’s accounts of his terrible experience with failing banks during the Great Depression. I eventually opened up a Citibank account, where I did most of my checking, but I always deposited one paycheck per month in my Chase account.
In all the years I lived in Manhattan, I only found fault with Chase three times: After it took over Chemical Bank, I discovered numerous mistakes while reconciling the bank statement of a Manhattan corporation. A check for $120 would be processed, for example, for $1,200. I warned other people with Chase accounts to look out for errors, and some reported that they too had picked up mistakes. It appears there was a back office problem during the transition.
And, I was shocked to learn, when I was about to leave for the airport to go overseas on an employment contract, that I did not have access to my Chase account because it was one of those to be turned over to the State for lack of activity. “But I have been depositing one paycheck a month into the account for years and years,” I said, exasperated, “and I’ve never received any notice from the bank that it thinks the account is dormant.” Then she said, ever so coolly: “Mr. Walters, I see someone has been making deposits, but the bank had no way of knowing that you made them. You have not been taking anything out of the account. If you do not come into the bank personally, the account will be turned over to the State.” Angered, I replied: “But I might miss my flight. This is ridiculous!” I called my Chase representative, who had known me for years – no dice. So I rushed to the bank, wrote out a check for $1 on my account, and deposited it back into the account. I had to present identification, despite the fact that several people at the branch knew me. I had saved my account from dormant status, and myself from serious financial problems overseas.
And then there was the time I went downtown to retrieve some gold from my safe deposit box – my dad had taught me to always keep some gold tucked away in a safe place just in case the banks failed. When I arrived, the vaults were no longer there. I had not been notified that they had been moved to another location.
Still, to have a Chase account was a token of prestige, a symbol of being a well-heeled New Yorker, so I kept the account ever since, making sure I made a withdrawal every once in awhile. Mind you that I was no longer concerned with the safety of my deposits, for they were, alas, always under the FDIC-insured amount. When my dad kept warning me that the country was heading for another big banking crisis among other dire things, including a world holocaust so bad that he did not want to live to see it, and that the FDIC would go broke too, I assured him that that would not matter, because the government would back up the deposits. Ultimately, I said, the government would step in and bail everyone out.
“Dad, there will be no lines in front of banks as in the Depression. Cash could be printed at any time to be handed out, but cash is inconvenient to handle and increasingly unnecessary – to possess over $10,000 of cash will probably be a crime by then. There won’t be any bank runs: People will simply be handed other checkbooks during bank crises, or the checks they have will be processed by other banks if not directly by the Federal Reserve, drawn on the U.S. Treasury account.”
Now my dad in his old age was a Doomsdayer who had occasional visions of black helicopters carrying out secret operations against libertarian intellectuals such as himself, and of Chinese soldiers manning the U.S. Army with Russian generals at its head. At least he did not listen to shortwave radio nor did he have a shotgun propped up by his door. By the way, his favorite philosopher during his youth had been the famous pessimist, Arthur Schopenhauer. Although Dad’s early influence implanted in me a pessimistic vein, my rebellion against his authority gave me occasion for optimism. As Persian Dualists have conceded, the Good Spirit shall win over the Evil Spirit in the Final Moment. But that momentous moment shall occur only who knows when, and until then we can continue to expect the worse to happen from time to time, although, hopefully, less frequently and terribly. Whenever something is going well for long, I expect the worse, and vice versa. I expected the current Great Recession to occur for the last thirty years, and urged everyone to sell their stock. After it did occur, I bought a few shares in Wells Fargo when the stock crashed badly, on which I just took a tidy profit because I think Big Brother’s other shoe will drop soon.
I had hoped Wells Fargo would buy Washington Mutual instead of Wachovia, but J.P. Morgan Chase wound up with Washington Mutual. WAMU had made it easy for poor working folks to open an account with free checking, and it charged no fees for carrying small balances, wherefore I opened an account there when I arrived in Miami Beach. And of course I kept my Chase account. Little did I know that WAMU was engaged in the riskiest behavior even though Dad had warned me repeatedly that banks are risky places to keep your money, that one is better off burying gold in the back yard or hiding it in the walls if you only have an apartment. I considered transferring my WAMU account to Wells Fargo when the credit crisis broke, as everyone knew by then that WAMU was in bad trouble, but I decided against it because I was well under the FDIC-insured limit. So I wound up with two Chase accounts when Chase took WAMU over. Since I was going to the same bricks-and-mortar location, I forgot that they were both Chase accounts, but I would eventually remember that the checking accounts are twain merely in number..
The pleasant Washington Mutual décor disappeared from my branch, replaced with bare minimalism, and the black suits showed up. Very New Yorker: “So the corporate fascists have arrived,” I jested in the lobby one day, but the suits did not get my joke. I noted last week that the Washington Mutual name had been obliterated downtown. CHASE was written large on a huge blaring-blue facade. Who knows what else will happen to our quaint South Beach branch?
But never mind, I told myself. CHASE is the status symbol that I have stuck with for decades. I will continue to do business with Chase, or rather J.P. Morgan Chase, and will recommend the brand to my children, who barely know me, so that CHASE might become a family tradition. I have been getting older at a faster rate lately, or at least I am thinking more often about death the closer it seems to get, so I decided it was high time to do as my dad had done, and make sure that my children were on my CHASE account as my “payable on death” beneficiaries, just in case there was anything left in the account when I kicked the bucket.
On January 14, 2008, Ignacio Del Villar, my “Personal Financial Rep” at the bank, had made sure that was done on my Washington Mutual account, after I presented him with my identification: an expired state identification card and a valid passport. But he refused to do the same with my Chase account, because, although I had the same state identification document with me, and although he knows me for quite awhile as a customer and as the person for whom he had put the PODs on my WAMU account, I had not brought my new valid passport, and instead presented a copy of my old, expired passport, which I have carried around in my wallet ever since I read that one should not carry an original passport around on the dangerous streets of foreign countries.
“But you actually know me,” I said. “Of course I might be a hit man whom my children hired a couple of years ago to assume their father’s name, make deposits and withdrawals and get to know you so he could have you put their names on the POD form and then kill me so there would be a positive balance available to them on my death. You know better than that. Who cares if the dates on the identifications are stale? After all, I am not expired. An identification document is to identify people, and you know my identity. You did this for me on my WAMU account.”
To which Senor Villa responded, showing me the computer screen: “I could do that for WAMU, but the Chase program will not accept the change unless a future date is entered.”
To recover my children’s social numbers for me in order to fill out the Chase POD form, Mr. Villar had accessed the POD data on my WAMU account, which had the number of my valid passport on it. I saw that my accounts were linked, were two accounts in number only. Sure enough, there were no expiration dates required on the WAMU form. Still, I would have given my friendly banking representative the future expiration date, but he could not do that as he had to see the document again for the Chase account change, as if Chase were separate from WAMU.
So I was stuck. I could not exist as a banking person, no matter how well people knew me, not unless I had an identification document on me that bore a future expiration date. Ironically, the state from which I had obtained the state identification document used to not require renewals, but the state regulators suddenly decided identification documents would have to be periodically renewed, beginning on a certain date, which resulted in lines around the block. We supposed Big Brother wanted to know where everyone was at one time or another, even though they could move the next day. It is good to know how stupid Big Brother can be even though his stupidity puts this great nation of ours in danger of attacks from people he treads on.
Incidentally, many people exist and even live quite well without a drivers license. I let my license go in 1986. I had disposed of my vintage Mark IV Lincoln Continental, which my Hawaiian wife said looked like a white penis with a brown foreskin: She recommended that I drive down to the beach and live in my car as it was costing more than the house payments. I wish that I had all the money I saved from not owning or leasing a car. Of course I still drive in my dreams and without a license. I have not once been stopped by the police in my dreams, though I am anxious about the possibility when I remember in my dreams that I am without a license – sometimes I have a smoke in my dream buggy, then realize that I quit smoking many years ago.
Anyhow, I disappointedly left the bank, took the bus home, retrieved my current passport, and took the bus back to the bank, arriving nearly two hours after I left. “Personal Financial Rep” Villar, whose financial representation had been so impersonal, was busy, so I waited for the next rep to help me, which turned out to be “Personal Banker” Felix Ferrer. I hoped that his banking would actually be personal so that my dignity as a person at the bank could be restored.
Senor Ferrer was amiable enough, somewhat younger than Senor Villar. He had to fiddle around with the computer longer to pull up the screens required to enter the data, affording us with some time for personal chit chat.
“These payable-on-death custodial agreements used to be called Totten Trusts,” I observed. “Ms. Totten had opened several accounts which she said she was holding for herself during her life but in trust for certain beneficiaries when she died, in which case they would respectively be entitled to the balances. After she died, the accounts were found and the trusts were challenged by her relatives, but the court declared the trusts valid.”
“That is interesting. I’m in banking and have never heard of a Totten Trust.” And then he proceeded to sell me a Chase credit card, this one with no interest for six months, a relatively low interest rate, and a higher credit limit. I already had another kind of Chase card, and a WAMU credit card to boot, so it took him a few minutes to clear up my confusion as to why I should have another Chase card, especially since I always pay off the monthly balance. Mind you that I never use my debit card because a gym was overcharging my WAMU card and the bank’s customer service department said I could do nothing about it except close my checking account and file a complaint. Even after that card had been cancelled for three months, I received a form letter signed by the Vice President of the bank saying that yet another transaction had been allowed on my current checking account as a courtesy to me – I was livid, but, fortunately, it was a credit to my account.
Senor Ferrer explained that the new card would come in handy because I would get points for any purchases made with it. So now I have two Chase cards – three if you count the WAMU card, which is billed to me on a Chase statement. Most importantly, my children are now beneficiaries on the Chase account. I trust them not to hire a hit man – a killer can be retained in Great Recession-stricken Florida, according to last week’s news, for $200, half payable in advance, but make sure you use disposable phones to communicate with the murderer.
My Personal Banker then printed out the POD forms and I signed them. All had gone well with him, and I liked him, but maybe I would not like him so much if I had not brought along my valid passport and he had refused to do business with me on that account.
Last week, during a discussion of the replacement of the Washington Mutual sign and logo with the new CHASE sign on the front of the downtown branch, one of my co-workers mentioned that she had received from Chase one of those gimmicky coupons that look like checks, for $100, creditable if a new account were opened, but she noted that the fine print said the $100 would only be available for new accounts receiving direct payroll deposits. That kind of account is generally longstanding, I remarked, once it is established. Some employers, I observed, without adequate funds at payroll time may not want to make direct deposits, for then they can use the float period to raise the shortfall.
Coincidentally, when I got home I found a CHASE Bonus Coupon for $100 in my mailbox, this $100 to be paid upon opening a new Chase Money Market Savings account. I have not had a savings account for years because of the negligible interest rate that could be paid on my paltry balances. But $100 is a different story, one that I could use at the Publix grocery store right away, so I took the coupon with me to the bank and presented it to Senor Villar after I had deposited my paycheck. It is my custom to deposit that check, then walk over to the Publix to purchase groceries. The tellers, by the way, are quite personable – I like bank tellers, and have married two of them, for different periods of course, one in Minnesota and one in Hawaii.
“I want to write a check on my WAMU checking account to open a Chase money market account, and get this $100.”
“You can’t do that,” Senor Villar said after scrutinizing the coupon. “It has to be outside money. You have to open up a new account with outside money.”
So WAMU and CHASE are one bank: I finally remembered, dumb as I am. WAMU is virtually kaput, engorged by CHASE, but if you keep the WAMU account you can get wire transfers for free, as usual, and free checks too.
“If I use money from my outside brokerage account to open up the Chase money market account, will I have to present valid identification to you?”
“No, that won’t be necessary.”
With that I proceeded on to the grocery store, thinking that I might write a check from my so-called WAMU account and deposit it into a Wachovia Bank (which is really Wells Fargo now) account, and then write a check on Wachovia and use it to open a Chase money market account. “I may be dumb, but Big Brother is stupid!” I soliloquized. But on second thought I figured I would not subject myself to the indignity for $100. The CHASE brand is wearing thin, prestige wise. I am no longer a New Yorker. I just may think outside of the box, and slip my money thru the four cracks of the CHASE logo. If Wells Fargo covers up the Wachovia sign with a stagecoach, I’ll do my banking there. At least the Wells Fargo’s chairman stood up to Big Brother on the bailout deal. I’m beginning to feel like a nobody at Chase, not even a person, as if I am just another cattle. They could care less how I feel, for there is no such thing as personal banking unless you have millions. Would I feel differently at Wells Fargo? That’s the $64,000 question.
September 5, 2009