Real Things People Do at the Bank That I’ll Never Understand!

For almost 10 years I worked in banking and did everything you can do there. That included the role of teller, when I had to help out there, as well as “platform person” to open, close and manage our customers’ accounts. Then there was my primary customer interaction of selling all kinds of bank products and giving financial counseling that included advice on mutual funds, investments, retirement accounts, and loans like mortgages, personal, auto, and refinancing.

Real Things People Do at the Bank That I'll Never Understand!

Being a Bank Branch Manager is a real eye opener in finding out just how little people know and understand about their finances. (click to tweet)

There were times that I was almost speechless from things people do at the bank. Sometimes I was shocked when I discovered situations that my customers would openly share with me.  Other times I would scratch my head. I might laugh, or even cry. I even joked with my co-workers that there might be a book in it someday if I ever had the time to sit down and make some notes about all the strange things that I would discover happening. Well, the book never got written. But, as a rule, when you deal with the public, you as a manager tend to remember the situations and the customers that are out of the norm. You know what I mean, you deal with 100 people and 97 of them are pretty routine. One interaction might be really fun or enjoyably noteworthy. And then there’s the two that are just so strange, you could live to be 100 and you’d always remember them.

That’s what today’s post is about. From my experiences back in banking, I’m sharing some of the things that people did, tried to do, and wanted to do that just aren’t good financial practices. In some cases they’re actually illegal. I’m not here to prosecute (chuckle), although it might have crossed my mind a time or two when it occurred. Most of the time, it was just a misunderstanding but the customer had a responsibility to understand what problems their actions can cause. It may cost them in dollars (or jail time) if they don’t try to think ahead logically. I probably remember 100 or more instances that are real, but I’m going share just three with you today.

How much do I have in my checking account?

Ah, Mr. X (name withheld to protect the ignorant). Every day or so, a nice old man would come into the branch and wait patiently in line to see a teller about his checking account. One day I happened to be the one he reached to ask a question about his account. He smiled and asked in a friendly way, “Can you tell me how much my balance is in my checking account?” Well, I punched in his numbers and there it was $747.72. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it to him and then I said, “Does that agree with your checkbook balance?” He smiled and said to me, “Oh, I don’t keep a balance; I just ask you guys every day what it is!”

That really happened, and more often than you would think. Do people understand that their bank only knows what their balance is at that moment? It doesn’t know what checks you have outstanding, ATM transactions you’ve made today and has no idea if you have used your debit card for any purchases until they come through electronically? Thus asking us at the bank does little good and could lead you to being overdrawn at any point in time. Don’t keep any accurate records? You are begging for a problem.

I want it because I want it because I want it!

Sometimes a customer comes into the bank and makes a request to see “The Manager”. Of course, I was always there for my customers. However, on certain occasions, I may have been with another customer, on a conference call, or even out of the office attending a meeting. The best way to make sure you’ll see me when you come in is to make an appointment with me. Reasonable, right? Well for you and I perhaps. For one of my customers, not really.

One afternoon, on a Friday, I was called into a meeting about 30 minutes away from my branch by my Regional Manager to discuss some new upgrades that were being planned for my branch. I had a full staff on duty, including my Assistant Manager, and there was normal traffic at the branch and no appointments pending. I left the branch at 3:30 pm, knowing that by the time I could return, the bank would be closed (at 5pm).

About 15 minutes after I left, a customer who was upset about something stormed into the branch and asked (or yelled, not quite sure which) that he needed to see “The Manager” right away! The teller informed him that I was at a meeting and wouldn’t be returning until Monday and asked if someone else could help him. He apparently was reluctant to do that but finally saw my Assistant Manager and agreed to chat with her about “his problem”.

To make a long story short, the customer, who had a checking account with us, wanted to cash a check drawn on another bank. Ordinarily, this isn’t a big deal, especially if the customer has enough funds on hand to cover the check (which by the way he didn’t). The problem was that the check he was presenting was NOT made out to him! It was made out to someone who had given him “his” check to cash for him as a favor because that person had no bank account. Well as you can imagine, we just couldn’t assume that this was ok with the person named on the check. It was someone we had no knowledge of and so my Assistant Manager had to refuse our customer and explain to him that his name had to be the payee on the face of the check and he would have to deposit it for it to be cleared and then paid to him. He didn’t like that and asked that I call him immediately about it. Well, back to reality.

It’s now Friday night and I’m on my way home from work totally unaware of what has happened. I then spent a pleasant weekend at home and upon arriving at my office on Monday morning, I found a note saying that a customer wants me to call him first thing when I get in to discuss our policy and actions regarding a big problem we created for him by our “lousy customer service”. It is now 8:15 am and the bank opens at 9:00. Despite the fact I was not yet even settled in and that bank was still closed, I decided to call the customer right away.

What happened next is almost funny. The customer answers his phone and after I tell him who I am, he shouts into the phone “Well it’s about time, I’ve been waiting 4 days for you to call!” I stopped in my tracks, “4 days?” I asked. He said yes.

“I was in there Friday, and I waited all evening and Saturday and Sunday and now it’s Monday and you’re just calling me. That’s 4 days!!”  Well what can I say, I guess he was right.  It was 4 days. I could have mentioned that in my real work time it was about 5 minutes but I didn’t.  I tried to explain why we couldn’t do what he asked us to do, but it was all for naught. After all of it, I just wondered how he would have felt if his check was cashed by a bank for someone else and he hadn’t actually wanted that to happen.

Please do it for me and don’t tell my wife!

Oh my, the things we are asked to do. Here’s the story of a man who wants to borrow money on a Home Equity Loan to pay a debt. The debt is a story in itself as it involves horseracing and a debt with a bookie, but that’s not really the part of the story that I am going to tell you about.

Our customer, a long-time client, wanted to take a loan out and use his house as the equity against what is a $5,000 debt. People often use Home Equity Loans and/or Lines of Credit to buy big purchases and/or home improvements as they are fairly easy to get since most people (at least before 2008) have equity in their houses.

The process invovles a simple form, but the catch is here in NJ and in almost every state, you need to have your spouse co-sign the loan to protect their financial interest and give permission for the loan and repayment terms. Unfortunately, Mr. Y didn’t want his wife to know that he had been gambling again (he had a problem with it before and it almost caused a divorce). I explained the procedure and the law and he begged me to let him sign her name to the documents since he was desperate to make the repayment. I felt badly of course, but I couldn’t authorize and notarize a signature that I knew was forged. Nor did I want to be complicit in his financial infidelities. I explained that he could have his wife come down to us and we all could discuss what needed to be done and that may be his best alternative. He was panic stricken and wouldn’t do that. To this day, I have no idea what he did about his debt, but I do know that I didn’t see him at my branch after that in my remaining time there. I only hope that he didn’t have his legs broken or something removed by his wife if/when the debt came due!

The rules of banking are just like the rules of personal finance. They are rules you need to follow to avoid problems, from common sense point of views to legal perspectives, they are rules meant to protect you and make sure you prosper. You can’t expect that you bank is going to break laws or turn blindly away from regulations just because you need a favor or don’t understand the “why” of the laws.

There are at least another hundred of these kinds of things I can remember happening, and perhaps I will share some more along the way. For today, I’ll just hope that you’re not on my list of unaware, silly and uninformed people that are bound to have a problem because they aren’t on top of their own personal finances!

Do you keep accurate bank records for yourself and your family? Are you aware of rules, regulations, and laws that can affect you and your money at the bank?


  1. Great stories Gary. I’m sure living in NJ with Atlantic City near by they added a certain element to the banking world. We do keep good records. It’s much easier today with online banking and phone apps, I have the ability to check my accounts anytime and anywhere,but you have to be more concerned with security.

    1. Security is one of the main issues that has prompted government and banking to become much more stringent about its rules. I think that began with the Patriot Act and because of it, people have to become more educated to protect themselves. I think that’s why educating younger people about financial literacy has become such a big issues. Thanks, Brian, for your comments.

  2. Hey, Gary. Great post. I can only imagine what your other banking stories might be. I think you gotta put that book together. I’m sure it would be a rollicking good read. Thanks for giving us an insider’s look at the world of banking. And thanks for reminding us that dealing with the public is not a walk in the park.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Kalie. You’re right about the traffic at the bank, it is definitely declining. But at the same time, there’s a rise in what they call “private client offices” which are sort of mini-banks for wealthy investors. You may have seen them, particularly in cities with high economic profiles. I wrote a post previously about the fact that there’s no reason to ever physically go to the bank. But amazingly, it seems like there’s more and more branch offices around than ever before. I can’t figure that one out.

  3. Becky@frametofreedom

    Wow. It is incredible how different views and opinions are in regards to money. Even future outlook regarding money is so different from one person to the next. Very eye opening stories Gary.

  4. This was a really interesting post Gary, the guy that wanted to cash a check with someone else’s name on it sounds just crazy, but I can believe it! How funny that he actually thought the branch was open 24/7, 7 days a week! You must have had the patience of a saint. Would love to read more stories like this!

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