The banks ask us a lot of questions. And we answer a lot of questions. All of them. They need our information to be sure that we are who we say we are, that our money is, in fact, our money and that our money remains safely tucked away in their virtual vaults.
Social Security number? Mother’s maiden name? Home addresses for the past ten years? Bank account numbers with balances from other banks? Your balance sheet and net worth?
We gladly hand over this information so that we can be secure, that our money is safe, and sometimes to ask the bank for money that we don’t have. We sit across the desk from the banker, admiring their cubicle, their freshly minted business cards emblazoned with the bank emblem, their perfectly coiffed hair, and wearing an immaculate suit while they tap away on the keyboard, inputting our information. We patiently wait while they determine if we are worthy of a withdrawal, loan, or mortgage.
Most of our interactions with the bank tellers are blandly pleasant enough. Sometimes I remind myself while waiting in line to come up with a vaguely truthful but benign answer to the invariable question: “So, do you have any plans for the weekend?”
However, when you walk outside the lines of the usual interactions with the bank, you might encounter some behavior that catches you off guard. And before you realize it, you’re on the defensive and answering questions that you don’t have to. You have been trained, like a labrador retriever, to answer any and all questions your banker requests of you.
Here are three absolutely true stories of bankers being assholes.
Gretchen is a pediatrician. She has been researching syndications and has met an operator that she trusts and a deal she is excited about. She wants to invest in this Texas apartment deal, and had done her due diligence, signed the paperwork, and the final step is to wire the funds. Sending $50,000 to a bank account across the country makes her a little nervous, but she is ready to start building her wealth through real estate. Clutching the wiring information, she proceeds to her local bank branch, where she has been a customer for years.
While seated across the desk from a young banker as he enters the information for the wire, he coughs nervously and excuses himself. He returns a moment later with an older, more senior-looking banker. He frowns slightly as he inspects the paper Gretchen provided.
“This is a lot of money, and we want to confirm the validity of this bank account before wiring your funds,” he says.
Gretchen knows that she confirmed the account number and wiring information with the operator on her way to the bank and was sure she had the correct information.
But, nevertheless, she was spooked and started second-guessing herself. “If the bank is unsure about this, maybe I am being too risky. 50K is a lot of money.”
She withdrew from the deal.
My good friend Dora goes into her local credit union. (We don’t want to blast banks only, here. This is an equal-opportunity rant.)
She has created a self-directed IRA and is in the process of transferring funds from the previous custodian of the funds to her new custodian. She has gone round and round with them for weeks as they continue to delay the transfer to an account that she will control.
The next step is to open a business LLC checking account to transfer funds from her new self-directed IRA custodian so that she can invest the money as she wishes. She is excited about the possibility of getting control of the money and investing in a real estate deal.
The banker helping her open the business account calls over her manager.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” he asks Dora patronizingly.
“Are you sure you want to move your funds from a very safe custodian account to becoming your own custodian — something you may not know much about?”
Dora replied, “Thank you for your concern and for proceeding with opening this business account.”
Virginia is a spunky 85-year-old retired teacher and mother of seven with numerous grandchildren. She loves camping, and she and her late husband put many miles on their little motorhome. But now that she is a widow, she knows that it’s time to sell. She brokers a deal with a local fellow on Craigslist and sells her RV for $12,000 cash. Her son-in-law was present for the transaction to ensure there was no funny business.
She takes her funds to her local credit union, where she has been a customer for over 50 years. The young teller behind the counter asks bluntly, “This is a lot of cash — where did you get this from?”
Virginia looks at him and, without batting an eye, retorts: “None of your damn business!”
What’s the message here?
You are not smart enough, knowledgeable enough, or savvy enough to manage your own money. You need our help to make sure your money is kept safe, in FDIC insured accounts that give 0.01% interest annually or in the hands of retirement funds that charge fees to “manage” your retirement with the returns, on average, equivalent to a monkey picking stocks.
If you take your money out of our institution, then how can we keep taking advantage of you and making billions?
When you walk into an institution to perform a transaction that involves large dollars or something out of the ordinary, hold your head high, your shoulders back, and politely but firmly conduct your business. If they choose to ask inappropriate or undermining questions, just channel Virginia and say: “None of your damn business!”
Vanessa Peters is a family physician and founder, VMD Investing.
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