When I moved to Memphis in 1993, one of the first things I did was to take my modest financial business to a local bank. Let's call this institution "First Biggie Bank." I opened checking, savings, and VISA accounts at FBB. Through the years, I took out a couple of mortgage loans and a home-improvement loan. I run a few thousand dollars through my VISA card every year, paying it down monthly. My checking account is never overdrawn.
Last week, I got a letter from First Biggie informing me that I was three years overdue in paying off a $3,000 home-improvement loan and that I was being turned over to a collection agency. Since I'd paid off that loan long ago, I was puzzled. I called the 800 number in the letter and got a woman in a call center somewhere. She finally figured out that the letter was a mistake and that I didn't have an outstanding loan debt. No apologies were offered. Then she said, "I notice you have a minimum $65 payment that's 15 days overdue on your credit card."
"Wait," I said. "You people screw up and threaten to send me to a collection agency for a nonexistent loan, and now you're hassling me for a $65 credit-card payment?"
"It's overdue, sir."
"Fine," I huffed. "I'll put a check in the mail today." The woman said thank you and assured me that I would have no further problems.
The next day, I needed to rent a car. When I tried to pay, my VISA card was turned down. Now, I was ticked. I tried to call the First Biggie office downtown, where I bank. Then I noticed all the numbers in the phone book were the same for every FBB branch, meaning all calls went to one call center. Sigh. The call-center woman (a different one, of course) said that since I had an overdue payment, my card wouldn't be honored. Simple as that.
"But, but, but," I sputtered. "The lady I talked to yesterday said everything was taken care of. This is ridiculous. I've used this card for years and never had a problem. I'm a good customer. Check my payment records."
"Sorry sir, there's nothing I can do."
There's a small bank near my home in Midtown. They don't have a million branches -- or a call center. They do have a new customer.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...