People don't tend to feel warm and fuzzy about their bankers, in part because bankers have a nasty habit of doing things to alienate their customers. At their worst, bankers can almost live up to the evil embodied in the most twisted characters in movie history.
In thinking about your relationship with your bank, ask yourself whether that bank resembles any of these characters:
- Gordon Gekko from "Wall Street." Yes, Mr. "Greed is Good" was a character right out of the financial sector, and while "Wall Street" was set in the 1980s, Gordon Gekko would have fit right in with the rogues gallery of bankers who helped precipitate the 2008 financial crisis. Toward the end of the 1990s, the government repealed the Glass-Steagall legislation that had separated banking from high-risk investing since the Great Depression, and those protections have only partially been restored. So, if your bank makes headlines primarily for its investment exploits, ask yourself if you really want Gordon Gekko rolling the dice with your deposits.
- Darth Vader from "Star Wars." Like Darth Vader, some bankers seem intent on taking over the universe. Banks that are constantly making acquisitions often subject their customers to disruptions like systems or policy changes. If your bank is a ruthless conqueror, ask yourself if you want to be on board when the Death Star blows up.
- HAL the computer from "2001: A Space Odyssey." Technology is a big part of modern banking, and this can be a great convenience, but it can also be frustrating when you need personalized treatment. Also, there are privacy concerns that come with that technology, as apps and websites are designed to capture more and more information about you. Who knows -- some might even be reading your lips.
- Ebenezer Scrooge from "A Christmas Carol." Ignore the fact that Scrooge redeems himself in the end -- for most of the story, he is a notorious miser. When banks encounter financial difficulties, they often result to similar penny-pinching tactics, from decimating bank rates to raising checking account fees. These tactics are not only bad for consumers, they are often short-sighted -- which seems appropriate if you have ever seen the Mr. Magoo cartoon version of "A Christmas Carol."
- Dracula, from dozens of movies. OK, comparing bankers to bloodsuckers may seem like a cheap shot -- until you look at what has happened to bank fees in recent years. From $30 a pop for overdrafts to fees just for getting a statement, bank fees these days really can bleed you dry.
- Nurse Ratched from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Louise Fletcher's portrayal was a masterpiece in calm and controlling bureaucracy. If you ever wonder why RP McMurphy wanted to strangle her near the end, spend some time on a bank's customer service line. People familiar with the movie might swear they recognize the voice.
While most of the above were not bank employees in their stories, the list of bankers as villains in literary and movie history is far longer than the list of bankers as heroes. However, if your bank rises to the level of any of the above classic villains, you may do well to change banks. After all, you want your story to have a happy ending.
Also by Richard Barrington: