I was in my bank the other day to roll over my wife’s 401k, and I was browsing all of their literature while I waited for the financial advisor. I don’t usually pay any attention to all of the stuff along the wall because I already have all of the banking junk that I need and I don’t want to be tempted to open another account just to get the free M&M’s, which I would almost certainly do. I love M&M’s. For the first time I looked at the “Business Of The Month” table, and I was appalled.
This month, the US Bank branch where I do my banking is highlighting Advance America. For those of you who are not familiar with the engines of oppression and disrepute, I will introduce you. Advance America is a cash advance business, so they offer payday loans to their victims. We have written about predatory lending practices around here for as long as we have been around here, so I feel like I am in a position to comment. How can a purportedly reputable lending establishment like US Bank endorse a Cash Advance place? Well, I decided to ask.
Me: “Are these ‘Business’ of the Month’ standard in US Banks, or is it just this Branch?”
Branch Manager: “Well, the Main Street Branch has them as well.”
Me: “How does one get to be a ‘Business of the Month?”
Branch Manager: “You just have to have a Business Checking account with us. Would you like a brochure for more information?”
Me: “Oh, yes, give me more information.”
It turns out you just have to have the right account. I wonder if they have international smugglers of children as business customers. No, you say, those are not legal. That is comparing apples to oranges. Though criminally cliched, you are right. If they were legal, though disputedly ethical, then all you would need would be a business account and we would have glossy brochures for them in our banks.
Is there any accountability for our lenders? I am writing a letter to the Branch Manager and to the editor of the Newspaper, and I would take my money out of that bank if they refused to apologize, but now I have my IRA with them as well as my bank accounts. Do the banks have enough hold over their customers that they can ignore the public debate on predaory lending and advertise for the predators without any consumer reprocution?
Probably. But it is our responsibility as consumers, as citizens, to make our voices heard. It seems like a lot of hassle to make a fuss about something so seemingly harmless, but what happens when someone is refused a checking account, down on their luck, at the bank for advice and counsel as a reputable business, and they are sent out the door with nothing but a glossy trifold brochure of Advance America? Where do you suppose that person ends up in six months? It is a hassle, to make a point of it, but Justice is often a hassle. It requires an action. Don’t allow discomfort or complacency to erode the foundations of our society. Say something. Change banks. Go to another store. Make your voice heard.