GESA Credit Union shows us the Stipper

If you get the reference, then you at least once played BaFa-BaFa. The latter is a cultural awareness game that divides a group of trainees (in my case, dorm resident advisors) into two cultures. Both are briefed on their cultural norms, which they are expected to roleplay. In one culture, anyone who breaches the accepted social rules is shown a card called the Stipper, meant to convey disrespect. (In our game, the women naturally resented the sexism of that culture, and began to show all us males the Stipper.) If you think this sounds stupid, consider this: of those who played the game that day, one is very highly placed at Starbucks today. Another is a successful film producer, another a pediatrician, another a captain of police, and so on.

As thrifty people, Deb and I keep savings reserves in multiple banks. We had a low five-figure sum at GESA Credit Union for some six or seven years, a relationship that ended this morning. Like most savings accounts, it had low activity–simply the periodic pittances of interest. That was fine; its purpose was to act as a reserve, not earn money. A few days ago, we received a mailed notice containing this text:

Dear Member,

Our records indicate that there has been no activity in the above referenced account for a period of 24 months or more. Gesa Credit Union’s policy states that an account that has been inactive for a period of 24 months or more is considered dormant and subject to a dormant account fee of $5.00 per month for notification of the status of the account and for continued maintenance of the account at Gesa. Accordingly, if your account is still dormant on 08/31/12, we will begin to impose the $5.00 per month dormant account fee as required by our policy.

This fee will continue until you either initiate a transaction to re-activate the account, or until the account reaches a zero balance and is closed.

Sincerely,

Deposit Operations Department

Well, we’d hate to burden such a fine institution with our inactive money if they don’t like it. Business is business and we understand that; they have to do what they have to do for the firm. If they aren’t satisfied with having our money laying around, for them to lend out so people can buy Hondas and pay them interest, the last thing we’d ever want is for them to suffer. So, after closing the account, I gave the assistant branch manager a letter to forward to her CEO:

Ms. Christina Lethlean
President and CEO
GESA Credit Union

Re: mailed notice re account #4xxxxx

Dear Ms. Lethlean:

We have for some years maintained slightly over $10,000 in a money market account, plus just over $460 in a savings account, at GESA. This holding was a cash reserve, earning us minimal interest (but certainly funding some lending by GESA). We had no intention to touch it except in an emergency.

This week, we received a frigid notice in the mail from your Deposit Operations Department. It advised us that our account was dormant under GESA’s policy, having had no transactions for twenty-four months. If we did not initiate a transaction by 8/31/2012, the account would be charged a $5/month dormancy fee. To comply with GESA’s policy, we have withdrawn both balances and closed both accounts.

This transaction will avoid the $5 dormancy fee for August, and in fact for the next twenty-four months. Our household’s policy states: never reward a vendor for a policy or action so comically ridiculous that it has us laughing too hard to get suitably angry.

Thank you for your institution’s service to us over the years. We wish the best of success to you and GESA in the future.

Sincerely,

J. K. & D.M. Kelley

The assistant branch manager’s explanation was that this was not GESA’s fault, but the state’s. You see, if accounts go ‘dormant’ for a certain period, the credit union is required to package up the money and send it to the state treasury. I didn’t bother answering her with the obvious: if that is so, the logical action is to send a notice advising of this and blaming it all on the state. The illogical action is to threaten a $10K depositor with a $5 monthly fee if s/he doesn’t come in and perform a transaction. She warned me that it would be this way at any institution. I didn’t bother arguing with her about that, either, because it really doesn’t matter. If it is, we’ll see how it’s handled when the time comes, and if it’s handled stupidly, we’ll leave. If it’s handled intelligently, we’ll stay, as we would have stayed had this situation been handled with the intellect of at least a fern.

Of course, I neglected to mention to anyone that it was going onto the blog.

I too have a Stipper.

==Ps., 17 August 2012==

Credit where credit is due. Ms. Lethlean picked up the phone and gave me a call herself. She told me that this sort of ‘culture’ had been a problem at GESA in the past, and that she had worked to change it, and was disappointed to find that it still had pockets of resistance. I didn’t inquire about specifics, but my own guess is that the culture was one of ‘stupid policy.’ From speaking with her, I believe she was more than mildly annoyed at whomever authored that letter, and that someone had a bad day over it. It turns out that there doesn’t even need to be a transaction, just some sign of motion, respiration or at least a pulse from the consumer. I didn’t take our money back to GESA, but we had a cordial conversation and I’m satisfied that someone had her bell rung over this, so I won’t rule them out in the future.

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