Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

October 10th, 2010 3:24 PM

Bankers Show No Mercy, Feel No Obligation

For the purposes of giving fair warning, this piece is not about healthcare and extending a progressively financed, single standard of high quality care to all. This piece is about bankers. To the extent that bankers are closely aligned with their friends in other financial services industries – like private, for-profit health insurance – I think I can safely say the anti-consumer behavior and arrogance displayed by big business is not isolated to the banks.

In light of the huge bailout the American people extended through their elected officials to the big banks, one would think there would be at least the occasional illusion of gratitude to the poor working class folks whose hard earned money helped fund the bank bailout. If there is no gratitude for our financing of the lifestyles of the banking CEOs in the style to which they have all become so accustomed, then perhaps a sense of obligation might prevail. When someone helps me out, I feel gratitude and an obligation to treat that person kindly. I also want to pay that person back.

The bailed out bankers of America do not feel any of those quaint and apparently out-dated motivations. This week I had one of those in-your-face moments with my bank that not only made my blood boil but also reminded me why I remain a gullible cog in the economic wheel rather than a valued customer.

Since my husband and I went broke due to our medical crisis in spite of having health insurance, disability insurance and a small medical savings account, I have been working hard to repay those who helped us along the way and to make good on financial commitments I made to others. I am still years away from repaying everyone and everything. But I will not feel settled or calm until I do.

Last month some new loan documents arrived from a community economic development group to extend my original loan to allow me to keep making steady, manageable payments until I pay off the loan. I needed to get the documents notarized and send them back. No problem, I thought, I’ll just go to my bank and get it done.

I walked into a local branch of my bank – one of the big banks we all bailed out to the tune of billions and billions of dollars. A nice young person met me in the lobby, and I asked if I could please see someone who could notarize my loan documents. She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Unless those loan documents are for a loan at this bank, we cannot do that.”

“What?” I could not believe what I was hearing. “Excuse me. I put my payroll in this bank every month, and you cannot notarize a document for me?” She knew I was getting angry, so she just quietly reconfirmed the bank’s policy. I persisted. “And I am one of the millions and millions of people who bailed this bank out with my taxpayer funds and you will not notarize a document for me?” She nodded and said she was sorry. I could feel myself escalating and didn’t want the young guard behind me to consider me dangerous, so I quieted myself and listened to the young greeter tell me where I might be able to go to find a notary I could pay to help me. I didn’t even hear her description; I was lost in my disbelief.

I drove away and found a notary. I paid her for her services, mailed my documents and was done with the physical efforts to complete my mission. But I was still upset.

I realize this isn’t the most serious problem of the day, but for me it spoke volumes about how little I matter, how little any of us matter, to the big banks and the big financial interests in this country. There was a day not so long ago when banks went out of their way to please their account holders. Those days are gone for most of us – unless we are millionaires. But wait, we were the billionaires who bailed them out. No matter. The banks just don’t see us that way.

And while this piece is not directly about healthcare, I think most of us know that any for-profit financial industry has only one true motivation and that is to make more money. I could tell a story about a large insurance company through whom we used to get our homeowners (when we owned a home) and auto and even some life insurance. Oh, how that company sold its trustworthiness to me and to my husband. But that was when they were selling their financial products to us. Selling us on their desire to protect us from harm was a powerful part of their pitch. Years later, when my husband was injured by one of the same company’s insured in a rear-end collision, that big and friendly insurance giant certainly had no desire to protect or help my husband. It was clearly no longer their business to protect.

If I named the bank or the insurance company I discussed here it really wouldn’t surprise anyone. I didn’t set out to be the customer of one of the country’s mega-banks, but my small community bank was gobbled up by them, so there you go. There we all go.

The kind woman who finally did notarize my papers said she knew most of the big banks have stopped providing this service for customers. But that did little to make me feel better about the whole situation. It seemed to me that as much as we helped them – we were all sold on the notion that unless we did help with all those billions they’d be done for – they’d be rushing to show their appreciation. But it seems it is they who think we should be grateful they didn’t collapse. Really? I actually had one person say well they are trying hard to trim costs and streamline. Wow, we have all been sold a line of pure bunk.

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