(Belated) Sunday Rant: Banks

So, banks. We all use them, right? I guess some people don't. Some people probably don't trust banks, and keep their cash in neat little stacks under the mattress (doesn't that get uncomfortable?), but a lot of us use banks. They're a necessary evil. And I've never met someone who was enthusiastically supportive of their bank. No one has ever said to me, "Yes! I LOVE my bank! They make things easy for me and they give me cake and whisky when I've been especially good at managing my money!" No one has ever even said to me, "Oh yeah, my bank, they're pretty helpful, actually." People have often, however, indicated how terrible/horrible/painful/stressful the experience of using a bank is. They say things like, "Wow! It would be easier to saw my own left leg off with a butter knife than access my account online!" and, "Oh yeah! Last time I went into a bank, I waited seven weeks to talk to someone. It was really boring, but at least I finally got to see what I'd look like with a beard."

My life is quadruply stressful, because I have a bank in the USA and a bank in the UK. Do you know how many things can go wrong when you have TWO banks to deal with? Especially two banks that can't interact with each other, because there's a magic force field halfway across the Atlantic which prevents transatlantic transactions?

Here are just a few of my favorite bank-related memories:

- That time I wanted to wire some of my own money from my bank account in the USA to my bank account in the UK. My UK bank was like, "Sure! We can do that, no problem! Just fork over a 50% fee, wait four weeks, and you'll be on your way!" And my US bank was like, "Um, you want to send money WHERE? To ENGLAND? I think I've heard of it, didn't we beat them in a war once?" And then, after a lot of hemming and hawing and looking up of obscure codes, they were like, "Ohhhh yeahhhh, THAT place. No problem. Just fork over a 50% fee, wait another four weeks, and you'll be on your way!" Unfortunately there was no money left to send myself after I'd paid all the fees.

- That time I wanted to access my account online. In fact, every time I have ever wanted to access my account online. In order to do this, I need a pointless little keypad that I stick my card into to produce a code. Which means I obviously also need my card. But! That's not enough! I ALSO need a special (very lengthy) code that's written on a laminated piece of paper they once sent me in the post. These things allow me to successfully log in about 80% of the time. The remaining 20% of the time I get a little red error message that says, "Sorry! We're unable to log you in because WE'RE IDIOTS you recently used the back button on your browser." Yes, yes I did use the back button on my browser, once, in 2004. SORRY.

- That time my card got eaten up by the cash point outside my local Tesco. I asked an important-looking Tesco employee if he could help, but of course he couldn't help, because the cash points attached to his store are nothing to do with him. He pointed out that a lot of people had lost their cards in those machines lately. "Maybe you should ring your bank!" he said. So I rang my bank. At first all they could say was, "Um, I dunno, we can't really help you, have you talked to the store manager?" But finally they suggested I go into a branch the next day. As the next day was Sunday, I went in the following Monday, and was seen by a very friendly representative who could see that some unusual activity had been flagged up on my account, but who couldn't understand what that unusual activity was, because the person who had flagged it up hadn't put anything in the notes. Finally he looked through all my recent transactions and decided that it was probably because I had withdrawn some cash in Wales last weekend. He lifted the restriction on my account, and ordered me a new card, which arrived promptly three weeks later.

- That time my US bank cancelled my debit card. Luckily, I was in the US at the time, so I went into a branch and asked the lady at the counter, above which was hung a sign that said, "We're here to help!", if she could help me. "Oh no," she said. "I couldn't possibly help you. You'll have to call that number, see, on the back of your card? They can help you." So I called the number. I sat on hold for a day, maybe two, and presently I was put through to a chirpy woman who was able to identify the problem immediately. "You went abroad without telling us," she admonished. I felt like a child who has been caught doing something he knows he shouldn't do but can't help doing, like eating ice cream before dinner. "But I live abroad!" I said. "You know this. You regularly send mail to my address in the UK." "No," said the chirpy lady. "We have no record of any address abroad." "But you send mail to my address in the UK!" "No," said the chirpy lady. "We have an address in California."

So now, every time I move an inch, I feel like I should call both of my banks and assure them that IT'S OKAY! IT'S JUST ME! SHIFTING POSITION A LITTLE, BECAUSE MY FOOT HAS FALLEN ASLEEP!

But if I'm honest, some of my aggression towards banks - maybe most of it - can be accounted for by the fact that banks are all about money, and money stresses me out, even at the best of times. Banks stand there, on high streets and in strip malls, like living monuments to mortgages, loans, debt, wealth, capitalism, materialism, social (im)mobility, long work weeks, the American dream, the credit crunch. They represent what we have but also what we don't, what we can never, have. And they add unnecessary complication to an already complicated thing.

Maybe I'd be willing to live with a lumpy mattress after all.