Saturday, June 19, 2010

Credit Union Woes

For almost as long as I've been supporting myself, I have been a member of a credit union (CU)rather than a bank. I've been a member of at least four over the past twenty or so years; CUs were always smaller, more friendly, and more personally interested in me as a customer. Like food co-ops, they can operate at the bare minimum; for example, there was one CU in Buffalo that had a tiny office with very limited hours a few blocks from my house, and when I wanted to get cash, I had to either go there and write myself a check (after ensuring that they had enough cash on hand - larger amounts required prior notification) or go across the street to to co-op and write a check there (again, after ensuring that they had the cash to give me). It was all very crunchy and granola if nothing else.

Then, there are others, like the one in South Dakota, that don't seem much different from a bank in terms of their physical offices, only they don't charge you every ripstitch. Banking without fees!

When we moved here, we kept our South Dakota CU account for a couple of years. When we were in the process of buying a house here, though, we needed a local account. So, I looked up CUs, of which there are many in the Twin Cities, and started figuring out which ones were most conveniently located. The thing about CUs is that using ATMs at locations other than the credit union usually means a charge - there isn't often a network of free ATMs, depending on the size of the credit union. So I very carefully chose a CU that had an office close to home.

Now, overall, I like the CU. The people we met with to discuss services, loans, mortgages, and all that were lovely, and the office seemed professional. No, they didn't have safe deposit boxes, but then, I really don't have much to put into one, anyway.

My problems with this CU began almost immediately, however, and they have generally to do with the drive-through. One morning in late summer, I pulled up at the drive-through post and waited for the teller to signal that she was ready to help me, which is how drive-through windows had always worked for me in the past. I waited a while. Finally, I pressed the "call teller" button and heard, "We were wondering what you were doing!" I thought to myself, "hmmm....seems like good customer service in that situation would have been to ask, 'May I help you?' as soon as they saw me sitting there - but, whatever. No need to make a fuss." I completed my transaction and moved on.

Several months later, I stopped at the drive-through again. This time, I didn't waste time waiting to be greeted or asked what I needed. I was there to make a deposit, so I grabbed the tube, only to find that there was no pen. I called the teller, asked for a pen, and sent the tube back, empty. It came back with a pen. I signed my checks, filled out the deposit slip, put everything in the tube and sent it back. The teller told me, "you forgot to sign the deposit slip." So she sent the slip back to me, but in the meantime, she had taken the pen out. I sent the tube back a third time for the pen, and she sent me back my cash and a receipt - but again, no pen. I didn't need a pen at this point, but since my transaction at the supposedly speedier drive-through window had now taken longer than it would have taken me had I just gone inside, I felt it was my duty to point out that it would be helpful to leave the damn pen in the tube. (I didn't say 'damn'.) The teller responded by telling me that customers steal the pens from the tubes and so they did not provide pens.

At this point, I was ready to start yelling, so I pulled out, drove around and parked, and called the CU. The woman who answered was the same woman who had "helped" me at the drive-through. I asked to speak with her manager, she sounded scared, and she put the manager on. I explained the situation - that I thought it was ridiculous that they apparently had a policy of not supplying pens because customers took them - and tried to convey my amazement that they would withhold something so necessary and common-place. Doesn't *every* bank or CU provide pens? Even the bloody *post office* usually has a pen out on the counter! And so, I became that customer who must be dealt with in as polite a manner possible, even though the manager is thinking, "who is this loon who is so concerned about something so stupid?!" And I felt pretty stupid, taking this so seriously, as she explained to me that they do, apparently, try to provide pens, but that in the extreme cold, sometimes the pens explode in the tubes, requiring them to replace the tubes, and so they don't put them in the tubes in the winter months. (Why couldn't the stupid teller have just apologized and said so?)

I went back a couple more times to the drive through that winter (twice hitting my wheel on the extra-long cement island, and losing a hubcap), and each time there was, of course, no pen.

Finally, yesterday, a warm day, I decided to brave the drive-through once more. I opened the tube (there was a pen!), signed my check, and filled out my deposit slip the way I have always been taught to do - list the check amount ($25); give the sub-total ($25); list the amount being cashed ($25); show the total being deposited ($0); sign the deposit slip because I'm getting cash back. And I wait, and the teller's picture (the same teller from the pen incident) flickers over the screen long enough to say "hello" and "thank you" and then she's over and out; the tube is returned to me with - a receipt for deposit of $25 into my checking account. I say, "I was trying to cash this?" and there is no response - she's been off the line from the time she pressed "send." I press "call teller" and again she flickers over the screen, "yes?" I say, "I meant to cash this - that's why there is a zero in the total amount." Silence. Then, one final flicker "youdon'thavetofilloutadepositsliptocashachecksenditbacktome" and she's gone again - there is no conversation, no, "I'm sorry" or "in the future, you should do x, y, or z." Nothing. I get my tube back with my cash and she is done with me.

I know this is really a very little thing, but good customer service - competent customer service - really does make a difference. I don't like knowing when I leave the house that if I don't have a pen with me, I'll have to go inside. I don't like still not knowing what they want me to do when I want to cash a check (and I don't really like the idea of having to say my account number aloud outside when there are other people in the drive-through lane, which is what I assume would be part of the process). I don't like that the tellers can't be bothered to greet me when I show up. But more than everything else, I don't like that the CU employees don't seem to get that these are problems with the way they do business. That alone makes me wonder if I should find another CU.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Onion does it again.

This is not just a typically funny Onion article - this is a really clever piece that rips BP while offering a laugh (and a laugh is sorely needed right about now). I like the way it keeps us focused both on the enormity of the oil spill *and* on the enormity of BP's, well, bullshit.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

On Jews and "Home."

(I'm a little rusty, so bear that in mind, and I apologize in advance for that, as well as for the abrupt non-ending. But if I don't post this, it will be yet another deleted post. Just don't expect me to say anything new.)

Bfp writes of Helen Thomas: "She is not hating Jews or wishing death or violence on Jews as a people. She is offering a very pointed critique of occupation and violence that a Jewish nation/state is inflicting on indigenous populations." This is a crucial point. It is a mistake to dismiss her comments as anti-Semitic.

At the same time, the notion that Jews can simply return to their homes in Poland and Germany fails to recognize the reality of anti-Semitism and the legacy of anti-Semitism. Poles and Germans still own the houses and property of Jews who were dispossessed; they won't be giving them back anytime soon. Jews can no more "go home" to Germany and Poland than can a young woman "go home" to a parent who has raped her. Legally and physically, of course, Jews are able to travel to and establish themselves in these countries, and that is an important right and freedom that Palestinians do not have. Still, the meaning of "home" for any diasporic people is complex and difficult, and Thomas' comment, at best, did not recognize this complexity.

One of the stereotypes that has always followed Jews is the idea of Jews as having power to hurt others; for example, the sense many people (who are not Jewish) have that Jews are running the U.S. In the situation of Israel and Palestine, Jews do, in fact, have power, and Israel has used that power to hurt and oppress. But it is a mistake to imagine that Jewish people are therefore no longer oppressed or that they can return to the countries that tried to kill them and live safely.

I felt the need to say all of this, but I also need to say, now, that while I think we need to acknowledge this complexity, and while Thomas' comments need to be addressed so that this complexity is brought out, there is also something larger, here. Bfp gets at it in the quote above and in this post, as well. And so does Tony Klug's piece, "Are Israeli Policies Entrenching Anti-Semitism Worldwide?" Calling out Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic. Protesting Israel's abuses is, in fact, the moral duty of Jews as well as non-Jews. Just as we have worked to define "racism" and "homophobia" in ways that focus on institutionalized oppression rather than personal prejudice, we need to work on applying the same analysis to the concept of anti-Semitism. I don't believe that Thomas' comments were anti-Semitic, and while I am concerned that she made them, I am distressed that the larger point she was making is getting lost.

Further, perhaps like Klug, I worry that the rush to censure Thomas - and to force her out - is inevitably going to deepen the very real distrust and dislike of Jews in America and elsewhere. And it certainly won't help either the Israelis or the Palestinians.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Which is harder - teaching someone to drive or to ride a bike?

We are in the process of doing the latter - and I wish we'd started this process years ago. Because we didn't, we are just starting him on training wheels, and Bean is, quite understandably, nervous about the whole thing. Once he gets going, he enjoys it, but the journey to getting going is paved with arguments, tears, yelling, and endless, endless braking. It took us 40 minutes last night to get from the corner to our house. This is exhausting.

And he keeps saying, "If I were learning to drive a car, I wouldn't be so scared!"