Tales of a weary bank consumer

So I'm depositing some money in a bank. It's not my bank. It's my brother's. I've borrowed a little money the day before, and now I'm paying him back. And the teller asks if I'd like to play the bank's scratch-off contest and possibly win a ton of money.

I tell her that I'm not a customer, that I'm depositing money in my--

She interrupts, tells me that's not a problem. So do I want to play or not?

"Sure," I say, shrugging, figuring I'll kill ten seconds while I learn that I'm not a winner of a quarter of a million dollars or whatever the pay-off was.
Well, instead, the teller tells me that the bank manager will be with me in a moment with the scratch-off card. I think it's a little weird, that they don't have these cards with the tellers, but then I decide that maybe this bank is just not very organized.

Nooooo... what they are is a little too organized.

Minutes later, I'm sitting at a desk with a manager. I know at this point that I'm in for a little sales pitch, but I feel like I'm in too deep to just excuse myself and run for the exit, without looking like a total idiot, and of course, I'm not sure it's ever a good idea to sprint out of a bank. With my luck, the police would be passing by, draw the wrong conclusion and draw their guns at the same time.
So I sat there, scratching several sections on the card, and listening to the bank manager tell me why his bank was better than my bank.

Now, I'm not crazy about my own bank. They're open until 8 p.m., but at 5, the banking day closes for them, so if I want to give them cash at 5:15 p.m., because I'm afraid I may be overdrawn at midnight, they'll put the cash in my account -- but it won't count. Not until I've been charged and lodged with bank fees, and then magically, my cash, or what's left over, will be available to me. I don't like that. I think it's wrong. So I tell the bank manager this, and of course, trashing my bank--his competitor--is just plain stupid, because of course, I've given the bank manager hope.

He started handing me brochures, and a business card, and telling me how we could set something up right now. Somewhere around now, by the way, I learn that I haven't won a dime.

"I can't just change banks on a whim," I told him. "I have to think about this." I knew my answer, though. This bank was farther from my house than my bank. I'd just be switching from a bank I don't like, to a bank I probably wouldn't like equally, 10 minutes farther away. But I didn't say this. And I didn't ask him why they have a contest that really isn't a contest but a way to catch possible customers. Is this really what our banking system is coming to?

At this point, I just want to leave, and so I'm inching towards the exit, with the bank manager trailing after me. And why shouldn't he spend some time following me? It's around lunch time, but this bank is completely empty. It's a ghost town. Maybe everybody's doing their banking online these days.

So the bank manager says, "Hey, can I have your number?"

He sounds like he's asking me on a date, but I'm not surprised when he adds a few seconds later: "I'd like to call you in a few weeks and see if you'd like to open an account."

I now want to self-combust, not considering yet that that might not be much fun, after it's over, and I'm splattered all over the bank floor. But all I can think is that 10 minutes ago, instead of 10 seconds ago, I had said, "Yes, I'll play your scratch-off game." And now, if I give this manager my phone number, I can stretch out this hopeless cat-and-mouse game for another few weeks? And so, of course, like any level-headed adult, I say--

"Sure. Why not?"

"Great," he says, and he pulls out a pen and paper, and I dutifully give him my home office number, wondering why I can't be the sort of guy who can instantly rattle off a fake number, or simply tell him the truth: No thanks, I'm not interested.

This is the reason, before I was able to take myself off the telemarketers Do-Not Call List, why I became a member of the Fruit of the Month club and why I once had 32 magazine subscriptions at once. It's hard for me to say no if someone seems like a nice enough person, just wanting to do their job. I don't know why. I guess some sales people just sound so eager, or desperate, that I feel like saying no is kicking them when they're down. And I can't help but feel sorry for this guy, for thinking I'd make a good addition to their bank. I've mentioned my profession, and yet he's still talking about all of the loans and accounts he can arrange for me. Doesn't he know what writers make?

But I've finally figured out how I will tell this bank manager that I'm not interested. I couldn't do it earlier, but I've had a long talk with myself, and I'm going to finally grow up and act like a proper 38-year-old and do what any mature consumer would do in a case like this.

Change my phone number.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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