Will’s comment here got me thinking about times in my customer service jobs when I refused to bend the rules but probably should have bent them. Here are two examples, both of which pertain to my time as a bank teller.

Example #1: A young girl, probably 8 or 9 years old, came in with a jar of loose change and wanted to use our coin counter. The rule was only account holders could use the counter. I refused to count the change because when I asked her if she had an account, she said no.

Example #2: A young man came in with a cashiers check for $1,000 made out to his mother. His mother had endorsed the check, and because his mother was a regular customer, I even recognized the signature as hers (or strongly resembling hers). I was reluctant to cash the check because I had never met this man before. (The rule in this case was quasi-unofficial. Theoretically, if the check is endorsed by the payee, it’s negotiable. But in practice, we wanted to be very sure before simply giving away so much money.) He said his mother was outside in his car, but according to him was very sick. I told him to bring his mother in so I could verify that it was her. He did, but as the bank was very crowded, they had to wait in line, and by the time they got back to my teller window, she was so weak she almost collapsed onto the floor and would have if her son hadn’t caught her.

I should have bent the rules in both cases. For example #1, I should have just run the coins through the machine. I don’t think the little girl cried, but she was probably upset or embarrassed that I didn’t help her. And I remember what it’s like being a kid and trying to negotiate an adult world with its seemingly arbitrary rules.

For example #2, I think I was right to insist to talk to the mother, although that is debatable because the signature was probably valid. But I could have said, “Bring her into the bank. You won’t have to wait in line. Just let her sit down and I can skip out of the teller line and verify with her.

I think in both cases the “rule”  was defensible, or at least non-arbitrary. But enforcing them the way I did and with such consistency seemed and seems cruel.


Category: Bank, Market

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6 Responses to Bad calls

  1. trumwill says:

    This is from the other side of the counter, but I was really annoyed by a teller a few months ago. I was considering writing a post on it (and may, but we’re getting far enough out that it seems less likely).


    My wife and I have two checking accounts at Wells Fargo. In addition, I still have my own bank account from before our marriage. It’s a small account that I use mostly for getting gifts.

    We had a three thousand dollar check that was a rebate or something from the sale of our house. The check was made out to both of us. My personal account was running a bit low and I figured a $3000 recharge would help a lot.

    The teller wouldn’t do it, though. She said that since both of our names were on the check, it needed to go in to one of our joint accounts.

    On the one hand, it wasn’t a big deal because I could do that and then just transfer the funds online. On the other, it was annoying because I’d already filled out the slip and I had to do it again.

    I would understand if the check had been written only to her. But since it was written to both of us, it seems to me that either of us should have had the ability to put it in personal accounts. What would they have done if we didn’t actually have a joint account?

    • What would they have done if we didn’t actually have a joint account?

      It might depend on the teller, the bank, or the state you’re in, and also other factors, such as how long you had the account (quite a while, I imagine, if it’s from before you were married) how you’ve managed the account (your average balances, whether you have a large number of overdrafts) and whether your wife was there to sign it in front of the teller.

      As I understand it, in theory, as long as both you and your wife sign it, the bank can take the check and put it into your non-joint account, even without your wife being present. In practice, the bank finds it has to balance the risk that she might not have really been the one who signed it, and you and your wife are about to divorce, and you’re taking money that belongs to the both of you, and the bank gets somehow caught in the middle.

      There’s a lot of steps there, and all of that is exceedingly unlikely, and the problem would probably be there if you deposited the check into the joint account and then transferred the money, and if banks really were worried about the risks, they’d probably just shut their doors. In reality, the risk of that happening is minimal, and even if somehow the situation were pursued all the way to the bank, any loss would be written off and the teller would likely not get into trouble.

      One of the frustrating things from when I was a teller (in 1996-1997), was that I got almost no guidance about such things. So I’d end up trying to follow what I thought were the rules.

  2. Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

    You expected a girl of that age to have a bank account?

    As for number 2, did the son wait in line in the first place? If he did, it was stupid of you to make him wait again. If not, then mom could have sat down while son waited in line.

  3. I’ll admit, as somebody who works in a customer service capacity, there are times where I’m forced to make a judgment call, and since I’ve been at my employer for nearly eight years, let’s just say that I’ve lost count of how many times where I felt a little guilty about saying no. On the other hand, I don’t want to be dragged into the office for doing something wrong, so my regret is somewhat muted.

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