Tuesday, December 22, 2009

People Who Are Not Your Friend - Part 1

The Banker.

Among my earliest memories was going with my mother to the bank. I don't know exactly what she did there, this being the time before credit cards and when most transactions were done with cash. But this bank was different than today's banks. I even remember the big car the bank president had parked in the lot outside, unlike anyone else's I had ever seen. And there was even a magnificent cast iron box with a bell on the outside of the building. Even though New Hope was a town of less than a thousand people, the bank was ferocious. There was a dark mahogany wall separating the people from the bankers - and the money. It was a wall with thick glass, gun-ports, and revolving traps that would not allow anything to pass directly from one side to the other. It was about seven feet tall and topped with spikes and crowned with electrified wires. The gun-port fascinated me. I didn't really grasp the concept, but it was white marble in the mahogany with a shiny metal lining about two and a half inches deep with a plate on the inner end. It was a relic of the thirties when people before had despised their bankers. And through that gun-port, the nice lady or man on the other side would pass me a lollipop! Oh, it wasn't a very good lollipop, and I had long ago learned not to ask for the cherry that I really wanted and just take the green one I was given, but it was a lollipop. But even then it did not fool me for I observed with person after person they put in big money and got back small money. Something was wrong with this picture. The lollipop couldn't fool me.

But then came the sixties. The banker tried to clean up his image. It was lollipops gone wild. The fortress-like bank lobby became a more relaxed setting with a counter and face-to-face exchanges. The lollipops became ashtrays and toasters. And the banker became a salesman asking if I had a credit card yet,and wouldn't I please sign up for one. Like most everyone else, I had my experience with running it up to the limit, and minimum payments that will stretch a balance nearly ten years, but eventually, I got it paid down and learned to control myself. As, apparently so many responsible are doing lately. So many in fact that the bankers have a kind of dilemma. The responsible customers are not borrowing, and the irresponsible customers want more. So in order to keep up profitability, despite the banks being provided money at 0% or near zero interest rates, they are charging ever more usurious rates - 24%, 36% or even more. Which squeezes out even more desirable borrowers even while the exposure to the irresponsible becomes more tenuous.

Were it not for the Federal Government taking my money and just giving it to them, the bankers would have to live like the rest of us. But the taxman may finally have gone too far. The takings are getting smaller and smaller.

Mr.Banker, I hope you had a fun ride at my expense. My house is paid off. My car is paid off. My credit cards are paid off. And today I mail my last payment on the home renovation. That's it. I'm out. Initials on the door.

Just in time I might add.

No comments: