Friday, July 29, 2011


After loving my bank for many years—proud of its local ties, excited to be part of its growth from local to regional to national, it’s no fun being a takeover customer of TRACE Bank, a big-box bank notorious for its indifference to the pitiful wails of its little-guy-customers getting screwed.
Because of long-term affiliation with my old, no-longer-in-existence-bank, I’ve had free checks since 1989. So when my supply of checks dwindled to reorder status, I took myself to a branch of TRACE near my house. I opened my wallet, pulled out my reorder form, and handed it to the teller.
“I need a minimum supply of checks. May I drop off this reorder blank with you?” Fully expecting a simple ‘yes,’ I was surprised at her response.
“You’ll need to talk to the accounts rep,” replied the teller. She let herself out from behind the counter and motioned me to follow her. She showed me to a kidney-shaped desk belonging to a very young man (in suit and tie) who stood up and shook my hand. “Our customer, Sara, would like to order some additional checks,” the teller said, as she handed him my reorder blank.
“I’m Avery. . . have a seat,” he said. “How’s your day going?”
I took a deep breath. I phrased my answer carefully. “So far . . . it’s great. But. . . TRACE Bank could change that if I don’t get the answer I want.” I smiled, to show him I was a good hearted old woman, capable of a teasing (but biting) remark.
He did not smile back.owhOW’S “ I can help you order checks, but first, I must see your picture ID.”
I handed over my driver’s license. Avery clicked and pushed the mouse, squiggled in his swivel chair, drummed his fingers, and clicked again. I could not see the monitor. Finally he broke the silence. “Computer’s slow today.” Eventually the anticipated information unfolded itself to his eyes only.
“Yes, checks just like the ones you’ve been using will be $24.”
I could feel my blood coming to a simmer. “What?  I’ve had free checks since 1989!
Avery didn’t blink. “Well, Sara, there is a way for you to have free checks,” he said triumphantly. “You’re a great customer, and we at TRACE value your business. I see by your balance in your checking and affiliated accounts that you qualify for an upgrade to our BIG SPENDERS account. With a BIG SPENDERS you’re entitled to free checks (providing, of course, you keep your balance maintained blah blah blah).”
“If I am such a great customer, why can’t you waive the fee for one order of checks?”
“I can’t do that.”
“But I don’t want a BIG SPENDERS account. I’ve been a  customer for twenty-two years and I like the account I have. I want free checks!”
“If you’d use TRACE ONLINE bill-paying service, you wouldn’t need checks at all.”
“ I’ve used online bill paying for years—was one of the first customers way back in the ‘80s (you probably were in diapers, I wanted to add)—but I still need checks . . . for birthdays and gifts to non-profits.”
“With TRACE ONLINE, you can create personal payees, such as family members. All check writing can be done online”
“No thank you!” I kept my composure. “I like tucking a check into a birthday card—I don’t want it sent separately from some payment center in Salem, Massachusetts. There are some things I need checks for.” I forced a smile.
Just then a tall, lean man approached us from the adjacent desk. I think there must have been a customer alarm button under Avery’s desk. The man looked like an undertaker, dressed in a black suit and dark necktie. He made eye contact with Avery who introduced him to me.“This is Pritchard, my manager."
Then Avery turned to Pritchard with, "Sara wants free checks, but she doesn’t want the BIG SPENDERS account.” (I could hear in his voice an edge of disgust.)
“Oh, Sara, that would be a shame,” piped up Pritchard. “With BIG SPENDERS you get a free safe-deposit box 16 x 8 x 4 (as if the dimensions were the tie-breaker), free traveler’s checks (who uses those anymore?), two free cashiers checks a month (why would I need twenty-four cashiers’ checks a year?), you’ll earn higher interest on your savings (from .01 percent to .10 percent—hm-m-m, that’s one penny per year for every $100 versus one penny per year for every $10), and get up to four ATM withdrawals at non-TRACE banks each month for no fee! And . . . (tah-dah!) you’ll be entered in a drawing each time you make a payment on your credit card for a total refund for that payment. Now, wouldn’t you just love to get back one full Visa payment?”
He awaited an answer—my “yes”—as if he were a circus barker waiting for the spotlight to light up the trapeze.
Instead, I shook my head. “What a huge waste. When you look at our time—both yours and mine it would be far cheaper to waive the fee for one order of checks and be done with it.”
“Oh, no—we’re so happy to do this for you. And anytime, you can change back to this kind of account, but then . . . of course . . . you’d have to pay for your checks.”
OK, I was defeated. I nodded weakly. Pritchard scurried to the printer by the window and peeled off a sheet of guidelines for the new account type and four sheets of disclosures. After handing them to me for signatures, both Avery and Pritchard extended their hands, which suddenly seemed stained with the blood of battle. I declined to shake. “Thanks, I’ll await my checks.” I turned to leave.
“Don’t forget, you’ll be entered in a drawing each time you make a payment on your Visa!” Pritchard sounded triumphant. I’m sure if I had looked back, I’d have seen them high-fiving each other.
Clutching my purse and making sure my wallet was in it, I nearly ran to my car. The fresh air felt good. It had taken me forty-five minutes to accomplish it, but at least I wasn’t paying for checks.
Hah! A wild thought crossed my mind. These checks were now so precious, maybe I’d keep them in my free TRACE safety deposit box! Oh, and maybe I's use my free cashiers checks to enclose in birthday cards, and with two a month, I could use cashiers checks for donations to non-profits, as well.  Maybe . . . just maybe . . . I could make those 120 “free” checks last for the rest of my life!  
I felt like high-fiving myself as I drove out of the parking lot.


Anonymous said...

This would make a great scene for a movie. I feel the same way about "Trace" (that should read WAMU). Monster bank coming into Washington and pretending they are a "local" company. All the nerve.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure everyone can relate to your story. You could get a "Gold" account at Bank of Am. and get all of the Big Spender bennies. They'll make you a Gold customer if you owe them more than $20,000 (I have a mortgage with them, so it works out, but hmmm... who is really getting the deal here.)