If you like humiliation, try a little bank withdrawal

ROGER SIMON

November 07, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

In the last few weeks, $110 billion worth of certificates of deposit have matured in financial institutions around the nation.

Which means that millions of ordinary Americans have had to undergo a unique form of consumer agony:

Trying to get money out of a bank.

Getting money into a bank is easy. I am sure if you asked them to, banks would send somebody around to your house to pick it up.

Taking it out is a whole different story.

Three years ago, I bought a CD. It was paying 9 percent. Now it has matured and if I "roll it over" -- a term banks like to use indicating their customers should roll over and play dead -- I will earn less than half that.

Adjusting for inflation, I could better invest the money elsewhere -- like the 10th race at Laurel, for example.

So last week, I went to my bank, a large Maryland one that is now engaged in a huge advertising campaign emphasizing its )) friendliness.

Banks like to substitute friendliness for high interest rates whenever possible.

I stood in front of a desk where a bank officer stayed on the phone for a very long time giving me funny looks.

In fairness, I was not dressed the way most people dress when going to a bank. I was dressed in blue jeans, brown socks, black running shoes and a green sweat shirt. I had not shaved. And I was wearing a canvas hat pulled down low.

When I had come downstairs in the morning, my wife had said: "We don't have any work for you, but if you go around to the back door, Ma will give you a meal."

Very funny, I said. I refuse to dress up to take my own money out of a bank. Besides, this is the grunge look.

"Which, unfortunately, has a striking resemblance to the bank robber look," she said.

Which may be why the bank person was staring at me.

Finally, she motioned me over to take a seat and I handed over my certificate and told her I wanted to cash it in.

"May I ask how you intend to use the money?" she said.

I am not kidding. She actually said this. Which I thought was pretty cheeky. Had I asked the bank how it intended to use my money when I deposited it?

I thought I might buy a new hat, I said.

"That would still leave you with a few thousand left over," she said. "And I would like to recommend one of our mutual funds."

Mutual funds are a bank's way of saying: "Hey, we know our interest rates stink, so why not put your money in this mutual fund, which we do not manage, control, guarantee or really have anything to do with except for the commission we collect."

In the old days, banks were a lot more honest: They gave you a toaster.

Can I have a toaster? I asked.

"We don't do that any more," she said.

Then forget it, I said.

Which began the bank's last line of defense: Making you prove who you are by answering questions.

L "Do you know your wife's birthday?" the bank woman asked me.

Doesn't it say in your records? I said.

"Oh, the bank knows your wife's birthday," she said. "I want to see if you know your wife's birthday."

Well, yes, I said. I do.

"Then could you please tell me?" she said.

If you are thinking of getting her something, she likes fast cars, hot jazz and Obsession by Calvin Klein, I said.

The bank woman looked unamused and so I told her the date and she moved on to the next question.

"Mother's maiden name?" she asked.

But I was ready for that one. When I had opened the account three years before, I had asked the bank guy if banks ever really checked your mother's maiden name and he said they didn't and so I had made one up just to be cute.

"Mother's maiden name?" the bank woman asked again.

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, I said.

The bank woman tapped her computer terminal. "My gosh!" she said. "That's right!"

And I'd like my money in small bills, please, I said. I might want to buy John-John and Daryl a toaster on the way home.

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