Other People's Money

While I was away from work last week, my company announced a special one-day offer that would take place the day after I started back (this happens once or twice per year). We were offering a modest cash incentive to new customers who opened a checking account or customers who made a deposit of $10,000 into an existing savings account.

I couldn't have imagined how many people would drop in for the second part of that offer. What's 10K between financial institutions, after all?

I've realized, by the way, that this is the way people become rich: they never pass up an opportunity for free money; they never ever pay a fee if they can get out of it; they live like they need the money, even if by outward appearances they don't.

Those of us who struggle with money (I would like to imagine myself *formerly* belonging to this category, though it's a journey, y'all!) usually have the mindset that rich people don't need to run around town moving money here and there just for a (comparably meager) cash reward. We imagine they have more important things to do with their time at that point. But we forget that this is how they got wealthy in the first place and this is how many of them will continue to secure their financial futures.

I have mad respect for the practice (as long as it doesn't involve dishonest means), though I don't know that I have the discipline (working on that too).

Anyway, it was a busy day for all the bankers. My coworkers had last week to call customers and book appointments, but there was plenty of walk-in, word-of-mouth traffic to keep me busy for the day as well. There was a lot of bustle, a lot of money changing hands, a whole lot of chatter making the place feel all abuzz.

Money. Money. Money.

Later in the afternoon, when a relative calm had settled in, I met an entirely different kind of customer. No giant money bags dropped off in her case. It was a woman who had been divorced for a few years and who had ruined her credit in the process of untangling her married life. She and her ex had both filed for bankruptcy, and the last time she tried to open a checking count, she was denied. (A lot of people aren't aware it's even possible to be denied a checking account, but it happens on the rare occasion, when things have gone *that* awry.)

This customer had been great to talk to...super down to earth and sincere. When she told me about her recent financial troubles and finally leaned in, quietly and in confidence to say "I don't even know if I can GET a checking account at this point," I wanted nothing more than to be the one to deliver her good news.

I've been there.

Well, maybe not quite THERE, but not far from there. I had major credit issues at one point. Two past-due credit card bills during my dirt-poor college days were enough to get me on The Naughty List. I did a debt consolidation at age 25 (my total debt at that point was roughly $2,300 or so, but at the time it seemed insurmountable), and it took me about 3 years of payments and 4 additional years of good behavior to rebuild what I'd so carelessly let fall into disrepair. I know what it feels like to have creditors give you a collective middle finger and the loud-and-clear message: You Suck! I'd earned it.

So when this customer sheepishly admitted her own sad state of financial affairs to me and said she would love to open an account that day...if she could...I immediately formed a cheer squad for her in my mind--a team of tiny, enthusiastic, financially responsible little rah rahs who (I firmly believed) had the power to turn the tides.

I input her information and held my breath as I hit the "submit" key.


Wah wah waaaaaaaaaaah.

But no. This wasn't the red box kiss-of-death screen. This was the definitely maybe, we're willing to consider the possibility screen. There was a number I could call and, on the other end of the line, an unnamed, faceless wizard who would review the customer's information and send forth a Gladiator-like thumb signal.

This time we both held our breath while we awaited the verdict.

"Ok," said the voice on the line, bored out of her mind. "We can go ahead and approve the override. Just enter the following information..." This was just another tick mark on one side of the 50/50 response options representing the whole of this woman's daily reportings.

It meant slightly more to my customer and me.

I smiled ridiculously when I responded "that's great!" and I looked at the customer with a little "yaaaaaay" in my gaze.

Setting up that account was more interesting and meaningful and special to me than almost anything I've done in my new position (though there have been some thought-provoking doozies). I could feel her fresh-start sense of relief and rebirth. I knew she was going to leave with a better outlook on the future. And I felt privileged to be party to that scene.

What I really enjoy about my job is that it's all about people. The vast majority in this country need accounts at some kind of financial institution to hold or manage their funds, which means I get to meet and sit down with the wide, wide array of folks living and making money (or living off the money somebody else made), which is endlessly fascinating to me.

Financial business is often related to big life moments. I watched once as a mom took pictures of her 18-year-old daughter, a college student who was opening her first checking account (she was crying all the while; I could totally relate to that mama), and I've sat with several people who'd just lost loved ones or were dealing with loved ones' terminal illnesses. I opened a first joint checking account for a newlywed couple just starting out on their journey together. And then, of course, there are the custodial savings accounts for the babies.

Oof...the whole cycle of life is there and I love--in that voyeuristic way I have--to be able to view little glimpses of these lives.

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