This Is Why People Hate Big Banks

They say no good deed goes unpunished, and a recent event that happened in my presence is a true testament to that statement. Well, at least that’s the case when large financial institutions are concerned. I think you’ll agree that this story is yet another example of an industry completely consumed by the destructive forces of unchecked greed and inimical to the common good.

So I’m visiting my family in NYC for Thanksgiving weekend. Yesterday afternoon, my sister was walking outside our building when she saw a wallet on the ground. The wallet contained $60 and two credit cards. Unfortunately, no ID cards that would have provided us with an address. Sure, she could have left it on the ground, or taken the money and left it, or even turned it into the guard of our building. Many if not most would have done one of those things. But my sister knows how terrible it is to lose one’s wallet, and decided to be a good samaritan.

She first checked the building guest sheet to see if this woman, who we’ll call Alice, had signed in recently by chance. No luck there. Then, she came upstairs and looked her up in the phone book. An NYC land line number popped up, but the number was disconnected. So the next idea was to call the credit card companies to see if they’d be able to help.

So my sister called American Express, figuring they’d have an active contact number at which to reach their customer. They were moderately helpful, agreeing to call Alice and let her know of the situation. But three hours later there was no response from Alice, so it’s unclear whether they actually did make that follow-up and pass on the information she needed to get her money and cards back.

Then, my sister tried Chase (now owned by JP Morgan). There, the reception was much more hostile. The representative refused to take down any information or make a call to help out their respected customer. This despite the fact that a very simple action could have saved both my sister and Alice a great deal of hassle.  Such an act of good faith was clearly not within standard company protocol, said the customer “service” rep. My mother jumped in indignantly and quickly demanded to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor, of course, repeated the same line. The only possible reason both Chase employees could have said the same thing is that corporate higher-ups decided to categorically deny any requests for help that were not officially approved at high levels, because that would limit the company’s liability. Instead, the still-powerless supervisor suggested my sister go to the police. That’s what she ended up doing, but it took an unnecessary extra hour to do so, and exposed my sister to some risk that she would end up with some blame for anything that may have disappeared from the wallet. Thankfully, the officer at the local station was very friendly, also pissed at Chase’s selfish intransigence, and agreed to call them again to more officially demand their help as a law-enforcement authority. Apparently that worked more effectively, because today we received a call from Alice expressing her deep gratitude.

I suspect most of you would agree that my sister’s experience with Chase was unfortunately more of the norm than the exception when dealing with big banks. Maybe Chase’s unofficial customer service policy of “fuck off” makes sense from a pure short-term bottom-line perspective, but it also helps explain why they and their fellow financial institutions are deeply unpopular these days. Regardless of whether they took federal bailout money (and for the record, JPMorgan did in the Bear Stearns fiasco), the industry most directly responsible for our current economic woes has a great deal of nerve treating its customers like chattel and expecting the American people to sit back while they enjoy their massive profits during a deep recession.

The ancient Greeks had a word for this sort of behavior: hubris.

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