Several years ago, St. Pauli Girl and I chose our bank based on its thousands of world-wide locations since we considered ourselves sophisticated frequent travelers. And St. Pauli Girl happened to have an account there already. Moving half-way across the Great Republic wouldn’t be a problem except we chose the one town that didn’t have a branch for our bank. This is not a big deal anymore with direct deposits and online banking. In fact, I overdrew our account while I typed this.
But rare occasions call for us to make the twenty-mile drive to the bank. Turns out I had to get a cashier’s check to pay a certain sheriff of a certain parish in Louisiana. That parish had a nice welcome center consisting of two police cars parked on the interstate in an area where you had about thirty feet to slow down from 70 to 55. Downhill. Some people would call this a speed trap, but I prefer to think of it more like a telethon. I’m happy to pledge some money so this parish can make its budget.
So I took my pledge card (plus a check from another bank to cover the funds) to the bank where I actually got to deal with a real live teller:
Me: I need to deposit this check.
Teller: Certainly. (her fingers fly across her keyboard then she hands me a receipt). There you go.
Me: Great. Now I need to get a cashier’s check.
Teller: From the same account?
Me: Yes. Assuming that I have access to the check I just deposited.
Teller: No, you don’t. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning.
Teller: But if you’d like, I can cash that check, deposit the cash and then you can get a cashier’s check.
Me: Great. Anything to save me another trip. (I hand back the receipt and as she works on the keyboard again, the wheels in my mind begin to turn.) How come I don’t have access to that deposit right now?
Teller: Standard policy. Funds aren’t available until the next day.
Me: But you cashed the check.
Teller: You’re a loyal customer. We can do that for you.
Me: How is your ability to cash the check different than my having access to a deposit?
Teller: Because you deposited cash. You always have immediate access to deposited cash because cash is cash.
Me: But it worked the same way. I gave you a check, and you gave me access.
Teller: No, I cashed the check. I just didn’t show you the money. If it would make you feel better, I can give you the money, you can fill out a deposit slip, deposit the cash and then we can do the cashier’s check.
Me: No, by cashing this check, you are telling me this check is good right now. But if I just deposit it, someone somewhere will decide sometime tonight the check is good.
Teller: Yes, the computer.
Me: But you’re typing into a computer right now.
Teller: I’m entering the transaction. The computer will update your account tonight.
Me: So if I deposit a check for a million dollars, I can’t access it until tomorrow but you’d cash it for me today?
Teller: Let’s not get ridiculous.
Me: Well, what’s the threshold? $500? $1000? This could be important someday.
Teller: Do you want a cashier’s check or not?
Me: If I deposited the check instead of what you call cashing it, would you still give me the cashier’s check even though I don’t have enough money in my account?
Teller: Of course.
Me: But then I’d be overdrawn.
Teller: And the computer would charge you for it.
Me: Now I understand!
Teller: Okay, the fee for a cashier’s check is $7.
Me: Yeah, take it out of the account.
Teller: Do you need a cashier’s check? I can get you a money order for $4.
Me: What? Aren’t they the same thing?
Me: Sure they are. When Sheriff Leroux gets either one, he knows it’s as good as cash. The difference is that a cashier’s check comes from a bank while a money order comes from a convenience store.
Teller: We sell money orders as well.
Me: What’s the difference?
Teller: $7 versus $4.
Later at another bank, I close down a business savings account:
Teller: May I ask why you are closing this account?
Me: Because of a monthly service charge of $5 and a 0.000001 interest rate. I’m better off keeping it under the mattress.
Teller: You only have $13 in the account. The $5 is a government regulation when you have less than $100 in the account.
Me: I see, but I also get charged for transfers from checking to savings and back again.
Teller: That’s also a government regulation if you do more than 6 in a month.
Me: Well that’s a drag because the account was a good place to store my sales tax so I wouldn’t spend it before I had to send it in to the state. At least I can blame it on Obama. So these fees go to the government?
Me: I see. But it was the government’s idea?
Teller: Yes, exactly!
Me: And the banks fought it pretty hard because they value their customers?
Teller: Sir, it costs money to keep an account open.
Me: Really? I do online banking, get paperless statements, and you don’t pay any interest. I assume the bank president keeps it under his mattress.
Teller: You’re supposed to keep money in savings. Not move it back and forth. That’s why it’s called savings. The government wants to ensure that enough money stays in the bank.
Me: So if the government makes you do this, can’t you slip a little refund to your customers?
Teller: That would violate the spirit of the law. We can’t do that. We must do what the government tells us.
Me: So you don’t want to do it, but you’ll accept the fees anyway?
A lot of people were against the recently passed financial legislation law because they were worried that banks would have to think of more creative ways to make money. Good news! I think they’re up to the challenge.