THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Personal Story About an Impersonal Bank

I went to my bank, which is two blocks from my office, to cash a check I wrote on my business account that I signed. I had been banking there for years. What could be easier?

There are nine teller stations secured behind ¾ bullet-proof plexi-glass; only two tellers were working although a line of 18 people was waiting for service. It seemed more like going through airport security than a place that was supposedly keeping my money safe for me.

Finally, it was my turn.

"Hello, how are you?" I said, trying to be cheerful to a person who seemed like she'd rather be anywhere but where she was.

"Yes sir?"

I endorsed the check and slid it under the plexi like a holdup note.

"Do you have a bank card?"

"No, I was never issued one."

"Do you have a driver's license?"

I passed her my license. She walked away, came back with a booklet, looked through it and told me she couldn't cash the check. When I asked why, she told me I could speak to the person in business banking if I wanted to.

"Is there anything else I can help you with today?" she asked automatically.

"Anything else? You haven't helped me with what I came here for."

I asked for the business representative I had worked with before, but was informed that he had been transferred. They seem to get transferred every six months.

"I'm new here." the business representative said. "I don't have authority to cash checks."

"What kind of authority do you need to cash a check?"

"We have policies sir."

I asked for the branch manager.

"She's with another customer, but you're welcome to wait. Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

Twenty minutes later I went into her office, accompanied by the business rep. I told her the story.

"Do you have a bank card?"

"I told you I was never issued one." I emptied my wallet onto her desk. "I have one from my personal bank. I also have a picture ID from college where I'm on faculty, my American Express, MasterCard, my health club membership-"

"I can't honor those. Do you have a driver's license?"

I gave it to her. She checked the same ID booklet. She slid it back to me, "This is not a valid license."

"Of course it is. It was renewed less than a year ago."

"It doesn't match the ID book."

"Call the motor vehicle department."

"I can't do that." She said.

"I've been with the bank for over twelve years. I wrote a check on my own account. I don't understand what the problem is."

"We have policies sir."

"I told him we have policies --", interjected the business rep.

"What kind of policy prevents you from giving me my own money from my own account?"

"Do you have a passport?" she asked.

"Not with me. I only traveled two blocks, I didn't leave the country."

"If you bring in your passport, I will be able to authorize cashing the check."

As I got up, she asked, "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

I left -- without getting my check cashed.

The next morning, I presented my passport to the teller along with the check to be cashed.

"Do you have another form of I.D., a bank card or driver's license?"

I was living in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

"You have my passport, it has my picture and my signature. Look at me. What more proof do you need for who I am?"

"We have policies sir."

I asked for the branch manager. She wouldn't be in until later. I motioned the business representative over. I asked him if he remembered the branch manager saying if I brought in my passport, my check would be cashed. He reminded me that they "had policies".

Another bank official came over to us. He introduced himself as the "operations manager". I told him the story. I gave him my passport. He asked for my driver's license. He checked the booklet and told me he couldn't cash the check.

"I've been through this three times already. I'm not going through it again."

"If you'd like to have a seat over there, you can wait until the manager comes in." he said.

"I don't want to have a seat. I want my check cashed."

"I'm sorry sir. We have policies --"

"I told him that," said the business rep. "I told him we have policies --"

"Is your policy to keep repeating you have policies?"

"Your driver's license does not match our ID book."

"Okay. I understand." I said. "Have me arrested."

"I beg your pardon?"

"You are saying that my identification is not valid, yet I'm still trying to cash a check, in fact, insisting you cash it. That means I'm trying to pass a bad check. Have me arrested."

"I didn't say you were trying to pass a bad check."

"Then cash the check --"

"I can't."

"Then have me arrested."

"We have policies --"

"So do I. My policy is I bank in a place that keeps my money safe and makes it available to me when I need it. My policy is to bank in a place that uses our taxpayer money to help small businesses and create jobs, not one that uses the interest free money to acquire more banks, diminish competition and charge 29% interest on credit cards and other exorbitant fees. On top of all that, while the executives layoff staff, leaving most of your teller positions empty, they award themselves record bonuses. I'm not moving from this teller window. Cash my check or have me arrested."

Fortunately, I did not end up being arrested. The operations manager went into the back and found my signature card. My file had not been updated which is why the teller couldn't find it. My check was finally cashed.

As I took the packet of bills from the teller she said in a robotic voice, "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

"Yes, you can help me find another bank."