Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Bunk on Banking

Once upon a time, there was a small friendly local bank called Coast Commercial whose branch manager would try and squeeze out an extra .25% of interest for you on a CD. Once upon a time there was a larger bank called Countrywide (not the mortgage company) who offered interest rates that were substantially higher than other banks. If you went to any other bank to compare rates and said that Countrywide offered more, they would warn you that Countrywide is in big financial trouble and money put there wasn’t safe. This happened even after you said that you had spoken with someone at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) at 1-877-ASK-FDIC who said that Countrywide had ample assets. Both of these financial institutions were devoured by the Bank of America, which made dubious contributions to the recent financial crisis.

Once upon another time there was the medium-sized World Savings, that was swallowed up by Wachovia, whose branch manager would try and find a slightly-higher-than-advertised CD rate, but she and her bank were unceremoniously taken over by Wells Fargo. Wachovia branch employees endured the trauma of a takeover by a bank that had its own branch about five hundred feet away. Now clients are having their own concerns with Wells Fargo that inundates Wachovia customers with e-mails, multi-colored brochures, postal mailings and tome-like publications.

Wells Fargo’s 32-page guide to the transition of consumer accounts and services is a four-color glossy contribution to bedtime reading trying to convince customers to feel comfortable in any of Wells Fargo’s “over 3,300 stores.” To insure that the Wachovia convert understands what they are in for, the sales brochure has a 72-page black and white companion piece entitled “Consumer Disclosure.” Every page is chocked full of mainly useless information printed in unreadable small type. At the new Wells Fargo store, you are greeted by a 24-year-old “banker” with a semi-spiked hairdo who extends a welcome with a firm handshake and offers financial assurance by saying that he possesses an associate’s degree in sociology from a community college. I facetiously told him that I had read both of the aforementioned publications and he was duly impressed. When I asked if he enjoyed reading them as much as I did, he confessed that he hadn’t — yet.

We always shop for the highest rates and found Pacific National Bank some thirty miles away offering the best at the time. Six months ago it was “given” to US Bank by the FDIC because of its problems and this morning our Innovative Bank met a similar fate and it is now operating under Center Bank of Los Angeles. Innovative was a nearby Korean-operated, best-rate bank and we will miss their gift cards, friendly smiles, and wonderfully written free magazines published in Korean.

The financial world is more than a zoo. It is a zoo zoo.

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