Robert J. Pennington Photography » Bob vs. Bank

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Bob vs. Bank

By Robert J. Pennington

Sign hereI have a small business, I mean, really small. No partners, boards, employees, no office, just me. It is like the “atom” of the business universe, unable to be further reduced, split or simplified. It serves its purpose of providing my economic livelihood, with a simplistic ease. As with any business, the dollars and cents of it flow through a bank, my clearinghouse for income generated by my little enterprising atom. In technical terms I am a sole proprietor, cash accounting, a minimalist of capitalism. My simplistic approach to my business extended to banking, just the basics–a checking account to move dollars to and fro, with a savings account to accumulate the occasional bounty. All is handed over to a very gifted and thorough accountant. Credit was in the form of a credit card. The credit card is where my simple world became a lot more complicated. I have had credit cards from an early age. It took me till after college to truly understand the advantages and consequences of having credit and using it wisely. Mortgages, loans, and the other credit depending activities have been relatively painless to obtain despite being self-employed in the arts.

Wall street signThen the banking crisis hit last year. I watched CNN and a host of others explain over and over the credit crisis we were going through. I heard what they were saying, but had no direct tangible evidence of the world of banksters and billions moving about like galaxies of which my atom was a smallest part, seemingly unaffected, until I went to buy a fancy new hard drive at my favorite retailer. Card declined is what Les said. My atom was about to have a bumpy ride through the universe.

The next call was with the bank, Wells Fargo. Four phone transfers and about an hour later I learned a new term, underutilization. It sounds like I am not using my credit card enough, but it really means that the bank is not seeing enough of a profit from my atoms credit activities. I was told the decision was final and that I was welcome to re-apply for a credit card. Surely this was some sort of glitch or error. I had used that card, paying off the balance every few months, occasionally using half the available balance, but sometimes not using it at all, and never late or over balance. My atom takes little to function. This was not what the bank wanted. I need to speak to someone in person, explain the situation, review my years of bank records, show them how happy and productive my little atom has been. I went to the local Wells Fargo Branch, with a plan. First I would request to close my accounts, to get their attention, and it did. I sat in a chair explained the situation to a young, professional banker, the reason for my unhappiness and pointed out the various qualities of my atom. He sympathized, and sincerely showed frustration over my account-closed situation, but could do nothing, except take it to a higher power, like a Cardinal of Disputes. I felt optimistic in the review of my case. I gave them til the following Monday to resolve the issue with my atoms’ credit card. I also gave the young banker another option, instead of closing my account, just cut the high credit limit they have given me back to my original credit amount, thus improving my utilization of balance verses available balance. Didn’t seem to take the Cardinal very long to decide…no. Back in the car and back to the Wells Fargo, I closed the accounts.

architectural columnsChase Bank is where I had some of my personal accounts and on occasion they have solicited my business accounts, somebody wants my atom in their galaxy, feels good to be wanted. The fanfare for a new business account at Chase is full of choices and options, advantages and privileges and rewards, all explained with graphics and smiles. It started to remind me of buying a car or talking to an insurance or real estate agent, did they really want to help or just assimilate my atom? I explained what had happened over at Wells Fargo, and that I was looking for something elementally simple, checking, saving, and a credit card with a reasonable limit similar to what I originally had with Wells Fargo before they had upped it into the utilizationsphere. The young banker had bank speak down, “we will do our best to serve your needs”, “we want your business.” He stopped short of saying anything about the credit card, other than the need to fill out the application. Decisions, it seems are to be made not in the branch, but further up the banking food chain. I left with my temporary checks, fancy folder, pages of agreements, and the hope that soon, my atom would have its credit card back.

A week later I sat at the counter in my condo sorting the days mail. It was here, my shiny new credit card for my atom, not exactly. My new credit card had a limit of only $1,000.00, twenty-four percent interest, and was not a business card but another personal credit card. I decided the banking crisis was now trying to split my atom. I also received a letter from Wells Fargo informing me that they had cancelled my credit card, how timely.

What next for my atom? How can I get credit for my business when two, too-big-to-fail, banks said no? Several independent things seemed to line up for my answer. My accountant told me to look at non-profit banks, or credit unions. Huffington Post reported on the “Move your Money” movement. Basically, don’t put your money in big, too-big-to-fail, banks, but local banks and credit unions. It was time for my atom to take charge.

Call it providence, luck, or coincidence…the defunct taco place on the corner had morphed into a BECU (Boeing Employee Credit Union). It is an entirely different banking experience, and happily I felt I was never being sold anything. This is just what I needed, business checking and savings, and a credit card. Two weeks later I had all three in my hand, including a credit card with a reasonable interest and limits. My atom does have a place in the universe.

Bob Pennington is a freelance photographer and frequent contributor to Ecozome and Rhizome Images.
Photographs copyright Robert J. Pennington.

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Robert J. Pennington Photography » Bob vs. Bank