No accounting for treatment by longtime bank


April 19, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

For at least three generations, Marion Buchman's family has done its banking at the Bank of Baltimore.

"Since 1818, when it opened," Ms. Buchman said the other day. "My father, Jacob S. Friedman -- he was a lawyer who owned a grocery store at 1501 North Fulton -- banked there. And my grandfather, Saul Friedman, a teacher, banked there. And I bank there. Did I tell you, by the way, that I was the only poet invited to the White House during the Lyndon Johnson administration?"

Yes, I said, you did.

"I was a great beauty in my younger days," she added. "All the boys whistled. And I have kept my figure and my rosy cheeks. Though I do use a little rouge these days."

Marion Buchman is a published poet, a former lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University and a person of some standing in America's literary community. There are no fewer than 14 stories on her in The Sun's library, and some of them have to do with her many awards.

Ms. Buchman has a unique and delightful way of talking, a blending of the past and present. But she does not appear to be absent-minded or scatterbrained. She does not like to talk about her age, but she is old enough to receive Social Security. She is not poor, but she must watch her money. Which is why she is so angry at the Bank of Baltimore.

"It is appalling," she said. "It is shocking. I am newly widowed and I don't have a man to stand up for me and this is the way I am being treated. By a bank my family has used for generations!"

A few months ago, Ms. Buchman moved from Baltimore City to Baltimore County and had a dispute with her moving company. I don't know who is right or wrong in that dispute, but I know that after paying her movers, Ms. Buchman called the Bank of Baltimore to stop payment on that check.

"I called my branch at Old Court and Reisterstown roads," she said. "I have my checking and savings account there. I gave them the number of the check I wanted stopped. I told them who the check was made out to. I told them the amount of the check. I told them the date of the check. And they told me they would stop payment."

But, in fact, the bank did not stop payment on that check. And that's because when Ms. Buchman made her phone call to the bank and told them the amount of the check she wanted to stop, she was off by 81 cents.

"They say I told them it was for $1,070.81, but that the check was actually for $1,070," she said. "Let's say I did. But they had the number of the check. They had who the check was going to. Why couldn't they have just picked up the phone and called me when they saw the discrepancy?"

That would have been the sensible, courteous, civilized thing to do.

So, of course, the bank didn't do it.

Banks hardly ever do this. No large corporation I know of does this. They all take out huge ads and commercials saying how they serve the community and the consumer, but when it comes to actually doing so, they often find a way around it.

When Ms. Buchman learned that payment had not been stopped on the check, she went to the branch to complain.

"One man was very nice to me," she said. "Which is probably why he would lose his job if you printed his name."

But I called him. And he was sympathetic to what had happened to Ms. Buchman. And he said he would "see what he could do" about helping her.

Then he kicked the problem upstairs. Where there seemed to be somewhat less sympathy.

I received a call from Jerry Baroch, senior executive vice president of the Bank of Baltimore, who told me he deals with all media inquiries.

"She had the wrong amount on that check," he said. "There was a difference of 81 cents. And she gave us the wrong date."

The wrong date by how much? I asked.

"One day," he said. (Ms. Buchman denies this, by the way.)

OK, so she is off a few cents and off a day, I said. But the number of the check is correct and all the other information is correct and the amount and day are very close. So why couldn't someone from your bank just have picked up a phone and called her and asked her about it?

"We rely on our customers to provide the correct information about their checks," he said. "They are the ones who write the checks."

Well, that's right. They do. And maybe the Bank of Baltimore could make that its new advertising campaign: "Get It Right, You Big Jerks, Or It's Your Own Damn Fault."

You would never, for instance, see a bank advertise: "We're the Bank That Cuts You Some Slack" or "If We Have A Question, We'll Give You A Call."

"They are being absolutely stiff-necked," Ms. Buchman said. "I think I was taken advantage of. And, you know, the Bank of Baltimore has made little mistakes itself over the years. But did I ever quit them over it? No. I stayed with them. So could they have called me and acted civilized? No."

But let us try and see the bank's point of view:

If it had acted in a civilized manner with Ms. Buchman, it would have to act in a civilized manner with all its customers.

And what would be the point of that?

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