My Emotional Attachment to a Big Corporate Bank
Leaving Bank of America felt like saying goodbye to part of my childhood.
Growing up, my sister and I were my father’s constant companions. While my mother worked long hours as an attorney for a private firm, my father was the one who picked us up from school each day. From that time onward, we had no choice but to dash around town with him, running errands and doing homework on the deck of the sailboat he captained.
One weekly errand was the bank. My father was a customer at NationsBank before it became Bank of America, and my sister and I spent what seemed like long hours jumping on their fancy sofa chairs and sneaking candies from glass bowls while my father went over his accounts with his banker. For most of my life, our banker was a woman I’ll call Maria. If Maria was with a customer, we’d wait until she was through. When Maria changed branches, we did too, following Maria all over Miami. Whenever we went to Europe to visit my father’s family, he brought back fancy packages of Belgian chocolates to give to Maria upon our return. “It’s always a good idea to befriend your banker,” he said to me with a wink.
Maria watched my little sister and I grow up. When we were about five and seven, Maria helped us open our first bank accounts. I was hesitant about giving up my birthday money, especially when my father explained to me that the money wouldn’t be staying in the bank, but rather traveling to faraway places for other people to borrow it. Finally, he and Maria managed to convince me that my money was safer in the bank, and I would always be able to get it back when I needed it. Later, she helped me apply for my first credit card before going off to college, explaining why a credit score was important to have and how to keep a good one.
As I grew older, I developed a deeper understanding of my father’s loyalty towards Maria. There was an unspoken agreement between them: I’ll take care of you, you take care of me. But there was also the kind of connection that often develops between two people, given enough time: respect, kindheartedness, friendship. Being a young adult, my banking needs revolved around depositing and withdrawing money, so I never really had the need to go beyond the automated teller machine. But I always remembered my father’s advice, tucking it away into my back pocket for future use.
A few years ago, one of my best friends was arrested several times for obstructing the entrance to Bank of America branches in Massachusetts. She was part of a group of organizers fighting against big banks during the foreclosure crisis, and hearing about her experience made me consider the consequences of my banking choices for the first time. I vowed to look into alternatives, but never got around to it.
Now, the news of destructive American pipeline projects—such as DAPL—has reached every corner of the globe. In my own state of Florida, the Sabal Trail Pipeline threatens many wild rivers and the Floridan aquifer, one of the world’s most productive aquifer. As an avid environmentalist, I have struggled to find ways to fight against these developments that seem so far out of my control. One day, I watched a video by director Matthew Cooke and learned about the #bankexit movement. A quick Google search brought up colorful diagrams linking banks such as Bank of America and JP Morgan to the respective pipeline projects that they are funding. My guilt from previous years returned and I knew that this time I could not make excuses.
I did my research and found countless articles touting the benefits of switching from a corporate bank to a local credit union: Better rates on loans. Keeping money in the community. No hidden fees. Using the National Credit Union Administration’s website, I decided to go with my current university’s credit union. But switching banks did not prove as easy as I thought. I knew I’d have to deal with the logistics; I hadn’t anticipated dealing with a strong emotional response as well. At every step of the process, I found myself close to giving up, as if I were looking for excuses to stay with Bank of America. How was I going to access my money abroad? Was I still going to be able to deposit checks on a smartphone? Could I link a family member to my account? The answers to these questions were always satisfactory; still, I found others obstacles to making the switch.
Rationally, I knew that leaving Bank of America was the right move—and yet something tugged inside of me. But, regardless of my conflicted feelings, I went through with the switch, and even wrote an article encouraging others to do the same. “You’re a person,” I wrote, “not a number.”
I told my father what I’d done and half-heartedly tried to convince him to follow my lead. As I suspected, he was dubious about the idea of leaving his trusty banker at Bank of America, but he said he would think about it.
It wasn’t until later that I realized why switching over was so difficult for me. Growing up, we didn’t bank with a local bank, and yet our banker was a friend. She knew my family and what grades my sister and I were in. Going into Bank of America, however giant and corporate it might be, we felt at home.
Although I’m glad that my money isn’t supporting actions that I don’t approve of—such as pipelines—it’s going to take more than just joining a credit union to benefit from being a name and not a number. With their handy smartphone app, I practically never have to enter a branch. I can use the app to deposit checks and even ask questions about my account. But what happens when I want a loan to start a new business? Or when I’m ready to buy my first house? Who will explain the nuances of my choices to me? Who will see me as more than just another customer?
Like my father taught me so many years ago, I believe it’s important to have a friend at the bank. With the growth of automated baking, I realize that I’m going to have to eschew convenience in favor of making that personal connection. Instead of posing my question in an online chat box, I’ll stop by my bank and speak to someone in person. Instead of reading up on retirement plans, I’ll ask an expert to explain my options. I’ll do what I can to meet the bankers who work for me, and maybe one day I’ll make a friend.
Carmella de los Angeles Guiol is a Florida-based gardener, dancer, adventurer, photographer, and writer. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review, The Toast, BUST, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Thought Catalog and elsewhere. She is the 2016 recipient of Crab Orchard Review’s Charles Johnson Award for fiction. You can often find her working in the garden or kayaking the Hillsborough River, but you can always find her writing at www.therestlesswriter.com.
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