05 November 2015

To The Mattresses!

Has your mattress ever caught fire?  Thieves ever come into your house and ripped it open looking for cash? No?  Me neither. Conclusion: Hiding all your money in or under your mattress may be the safest place for it.

I know, I know, banks are safe, deposits are guaranteed by the Federal Government, (at least until Ben Carson and Ted Cruz kill that government program along with ObamaCare, The Federal Reserve Bank, The EX-Im Bank, Consumer Protection Department, and the other major government programs that slip my mind at this moment--I am allowed; I am much older than what’s-his-first-name Perry.)

And your brokerage accounts? All those stocks you own? Your IRAs? You have the stock certificates in your vault, right?

So here’s the flaw that nobody talks about: Who says you have any money in the bank? Can you see it, touch it, smell it? No? Just because you gave it to them, how do you know they still have it--at least credited to your account?

Ahh, you say, I know my bank balance and my brokerage balance because I go online and can see it. Really?  Let’s be real, all you see is some numbers the banks choose to show you on their computer. Not yours, theirs.   What you see on your screen is a mirror of what they have on their screen. Nah, “they would never screw with that”, you say.  You are probably right--they would never intentionally do a hard drive wipe of your wealth on their computers.  But what if somebody else does? The Chinese, the Russians, the 17 yr. old kid next door?  Ahh, you say, our banks have fail-proof security systems. Right, as did the Federal government, and T-Mobile, and Sony, and the scores of major corporations who have been hacked.

But let’s assume the banks have bullet-proof security. Still, aren’t you a little nervous? No? You should be. Here is my true story:

Last week, we were in Montauk, Pinks in our office on her computer, I at the breakfast table reading the paper, when I hear muted shriek.  Pinks was checking her bank account to see if a recent deposit had registered. Yes, it had, but the screen showed that the deposit was immediately wiped out by an existing overdraft. Huh? Pinks is scrupulous about her checking account. Never comes even close to an overdraft. But there it was on the screen, all those numbers in red.  A review of recent transactions on her screen revealed she had been in an overdraft condition all month!

We called Citibank tech support, and reached Dorothy, a sunny-dispositioned banker woman from Idaho, or California, or someplace like that. We explained the problem.  She was pleasant, but suspicious. My guess is she receives a lot of calls from people who spent their money but want it back. When she looked up Pinks’ account on her screen, she not only confirmed the red ink, but said it the account had been in 100% overdraft status going back to June!  

The following conversation ensued:

We:  But, Dorothy, that is obviously a mistake. Pinks has never seen red ink before and Pinks makes machine cash withdrawals a couple of times per month. The bank machine would not give her cash if she had no money in the bank, right?

Dorothy: Well, yes, that is strange, but sometimes there is a delay between a deposit and a withdrawal, and that might explain it.

We:  Huh? That explains nothing. The screen is red, red, red. Before and after the withdrawals. What is going on there?

Dorothy: Do you have your printed bank statements showing a positive balance? All I have to go on is the bank computer and that shows a constant negative bank balance.

We: No, the printed statements are in NYC--we do not have them here. We want to speak to a supervisor, please.

Dorothy: Okay, I don’t know what else I can do...... Wait a minute, let me see if I can go to another computer program here and get a screen that shows our copy of your last printed statement...........Wow, you are right! The printed statement we sent you two weeks ago shows a positive balance! Gee, no overdraft in sight.  Hold, please!

While we are on hold, I check my bank balance. Seems a little lower than I thought.  I click on “recent transactions.” Holy shit,  several checks I sent out yesterday do show up, but each one appears to have been debited to the account twice! Some $5,000 in payments resulted in a $10,000 reduction in my bank balance.  We are now officially in the Personal Finance Twilight Zone.

Our Citi-lady comes back from hold-land:

Dorothy: Wow.  Just checked with my supervisor. Wish he had told us earlier. The bank is being swamped with these calls this morning.  Some sort of  “computer glitch” they are telling us. They are working on it now. I am assured it will be fixed in several hours. Please check back at the end of the day. Sorry for the inconvenience and Thank You for banking with Citi.

“Inconvenience”? We were relatively calm. How many Citi customers had heart attacks?

All was indeed squared away in hours. Both accounts.

I was eager to read about this crash in the press. How many billions of dollars of personal wealth disappeared down the rabbit hole, even for only half a day? What if the "glitch" lasted longer, say two days, or a week? What a story! But I did not see it in the paper, I did not see it on television, and I did not get a note addressed to the bank's affected customers.  Not a syllable. Seems Citibank is burying this story under its corporate mattress.

How many times in the last year have I received a plea from a service vendor to go “paperless?”  They gotta be kidding. The urgent request is almost always accompanied by a suggestion this will reduce costs, (theirs, not mine), and save trees. Well, I don’t really give shit about their costs, and I like trees alright, but not that much!  

When I get back to NYC, I am going to check out the feasibility of installing a mattress zipper.  Maybe even launch a sales campaign for a new product to protect assets. Need a name for my new company. “Mattress-Zip”, “Hide-a-Buck”, “Glitch-Free Bank”, are several that come to mind. Maybe I can get a Kardashian to do the infomercial. Or Ben Carson.  Gotta think on it.

Sun is out. The beach beckons.

A bientot.

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