July 1 fell on Sunday this year, so my dividend check (drawn on the Chase Manhattan Bank) arrived on Monday, July 2.I hurried off to my bank to deposit it.
On Thursday, July 5, I went to my bank to deposit my paycheck, which is issued on a local bank (Riggs).
On Thursday, July 12, I tried to cash a check for "walking aroung money" at one of my bank's drive-in branches. The teller punched my account number into her computer terminal, looked at a video display screen, and handed the check back to me. "I'm sorry," she said, "but you have a negative available balance."
"You must have punched the wrong digits into your terminal," I said. "There is plenty of money in my account."
"I made no mistake, sir," she said icily. "If you would like to talk to an officer you can park your car and come inside."
Inside, all four bank officers were seated at their desks with telephones at their ears. After a long wait, one of them finished her conversation and asked whether she could help me.
"Yes," I said."I would like to withdraw some of my money, but your computer says I have a negative available balance. Your computer is full of sawdust."
"'Negative available balance' probably means that a check you deposited hasn't cleared yet," she explained politely. "The computer puts a 'hold' on all checks until they clear. What was the date of you last deposit?"
"One full week ago, Thursday the 5th," I said. "That was a paycheck drawn on Riggs. Previous to the 5th, I deposited a larger check on the 2d. That one was a New York bank. But this is the 12th, for heaven's sake."
The bank officer puncher my number into her VDT terminal, and in a few seconds the screen was filled with pertinent data on my account. Both the Chase Manhattan check deposited July 2 and the Riggs check deposited July 5 were recorded, but neither had "cleared" yet.
Little jets of steam began to pour out of my ears.
Eventually, a phone call to a bank vice president at the main office instructed the young woman at the branch to cash my check.
But even at this late date, my blood pressure hasn't competely simmered down. I remain filled with wonder at what computers have done to our lives.
A few years ago, bankers began to tell us about the wonders of their new system for the electronic transfer of funds. "Now," we were told, "your employer's computer (or Social Security's computer) can talk to our bank's computer, and in the twinkling of an eye money can be transferred from their account to your account in our bank. Why risk handling cash or waiting for checks to be mailed and delivered?"
The cashless society had arrived at last hooray, hooray!
I wrote a column praising the electronic transfer of funds. I commented on how pleasant life would be when we were freed from the annoyance of waiting for checks that were delayed in the mails, and how simple it would be for a teller to ask a computer whether a check was good instead of waiting to ask a bank officer who was involved in a long-winded telephone conversation.
Now I'm not so sure I look forward to a computerized and cashless society.
The human beings at my bank's main office have known me for 35 years. When I walk in, they say hello and ask how I'm feeling. They cash my checks without even looking up my balance.
But when I deal with a branch office, its computer doesn't care how I feel, and it is quicker to say "good-bye" than "hello." What's worse, it regards my request for some of my own money with deep suspicion. I am rapidly learning to dislike that computer as much as it dislikes me.
Can anybody explain to me why a check issued by a multibillion-dollar company on the Chase Manhattan Bank can't clear between July 2 and July 12 in this era of electronic transfers, Postal Service boasts of next-day deliveries, and conputerized book-keeping? Is somebody in this chain of activity still using quill pens and a cordless abacus? Does it profit banks to keep our money in their "float"?
So you mislaid the mailing address for Heroes, Inc., did you? All rights, here it is again:
If you would like to make a contribution ot the organization that looks after the widows and orphans of police officers and firefighters who lose their lives while on active duty, please make your (tax-deductible) check to the order of Heroes, Inc., and mail it to P.O. Box 1860, Washington, D.C. 20013.
I won't nag you by publishing this again, so please send your check now or clip and save this item. Thank you.