Saturday, September 17, 2011

Banking in Sand Land: A Cautionary Tale

A few weeks back, in the middle of the night, my mobile phone rang.

"Who in the hell is 'G-Train'?" my husband asked, handing me the phone.

"'s one of our suppliers...from New Jersey," I said, blinking.

"The company is called G-Train? Are you serious?"

"No. It's our sales rep. That's his nickname or something." I explained and answered the phone.

The ensuing conversation went something along these lines:

Me: G-Train, do you have any clue what time it is over here?

G-Train [sounds like a Sopranos cast member]: You still in Sand Land?! Are you kidding me, doll? Aren't you gonna like flee that country or somethin'??

Me: What are you talking about?

G-Train: Lady, c'mon. You just sent me $89,400.00 to settle an invoice for $8,490.00. HAHAHAHAHA!!!

Me: No way. I reviewed that transfer order before it went to the bank.

G-Train [screaming to his colleagues]: Yo, Pretty Ricky! Juice Factor! Get over here. This lady just sent me like a MILLION more dollahs than we invoiced her for. HAHAHAHA!

Pretty Ricky or Juice Factor: Damn, bro! That is one crazy ass broad! Yo, G-Train that money is all you! It's all you baby!

G-Train: I mean, what's going on doll? Is this your passive aggressive way of letting me know you wanna run off wit me?

Me: Dude, look, there's been some screw up. Don't take that money to Atlantic City or anything. It's coming out.

I ended the call while G-Train, Pretty Ricky and Juice Factor were fist bumping and talking about how they were going to make it rain in the Jersey shore clubs that weekend.

As I fired up my computer, my heart was in my throat. I've done some pretty stupid things in my life, but this would definitely take the cake. I opened the pdf of the wire transfer and heaved a sigh of relief as I confirmed that the document did indeed call for a payment of "US$ 8,490.00" to G-Train & Bros.

Just to make things crystal clear, the First Bank of Sand Land's wire transfer form also required you to write the amount in letters: "Eight thousand four hundred ninety u.s. dollars and zero cents".
So what the hell was G-Train talking about?

I logged into Fuckwittery, Inc.'s account. Sure enough there was a wire transfer for $89,400.00. The jackholes at First Bank of Sand Land had not only transposed the "4" and the "9" but they added an extra zero for shits and giggles. Payroll was due in a few days and a substantial portion of our working capital was in the custody of G-Train, Pretty Ricky and Juice Factor. My blood pressure hit the stratosphere.

Not with my luck.

I called the bank's help desk and was promptly put on hold and subjected to their shiteous call hold music, Ode to Joy...hammered out on a xylopone...on infinite repeat. (What is it with call hold music in Sand Land, by the way?) As I waited, I sent out a panicky email to our banking manager. After 25 minutes on hold, I was told that absolutely nothing could be done outside normal working hours.

The next morning, I was standing outside the bank branch with my accountant when they opened for business. I made a beeline for the manager's office. In as calm a voice as I could muster, I explained that we had submitted a wire transfer for $8,490.00 but $89,400.00 had been transferred out of our account. I handed the manager a copy of the transfer and a screen shot of our bank account, sat back and waited for a profuse apology.

But the manager sipped her coffee, gave the form a casual glance and looked at me over the rims of her glasses. "Madam, I'm afraid there is nothing we can do. The money has already been transferred."

I took a deep breath and tried to stay calm. "This bank erroneously transferred more than $80,000 out of my company's account. I'm afraid you are going to have to do something about it."

"Do you never make mistakes?" the manager asked, her face clouding.

"Not $80,000 dollar mistakes! Are you insane?!" I shrieked before regaining composure. I was starting to feel paranoid, like I was the unwitting victim of some elaborate, international candid camera prank. "Look, a mistake is not the end of the world but you've got to fix it."

"Madam, when you transfer money, you have to accept the risk that there may be some mistake. Everyone knows this." She stood up and motioned for the door, apparently to indicate that I was dismissed.

"On what planet is it common knowledge that a bank can make unauthorized transfers out of a customer's account?" I snarled, glued my seat.

"The planet of Earth," she answered matter of factly.

"Ok, is that why the transfer forms make you write the amount in both letters and numbers? Why don't you just type "any amount this bank damn well pleases" in those fields?"

We continued sparring to no avail. When I got back to the office, I started burning up the phones to everyone I knew in First Bank of Sand Land's headquarters. After two days of continuous emails and calls, someone high up the food chain finally admitted that the bank would have to correct the transfer and initiated a process to claw back Fuckwittery, Inc's money from G-Train & Bros.

When the missing $80,910 was safely for the time being back in our coffers and my blood pressure returned to normal levels, I thought I had a pretty good story on my hands. But it turns out I didn't. As I told my Sand Land friends about this ordeal, I was consistently met with sympathetic nods, not bug-eyed, slack-jawed looks of incredulity. Everybody had a story of the banks erroneously transferring money into or out of their accounts for no apparent reason. I came to learn that more than a few people here spend hours of their free time every month combing through their bank statements in search of these inevitable, uncorrected errors.

The only person I've come across who was impressed with the banking establishments of Sand Land was my 9 year-old neice. On a Christmas visit, she was awed by the ever-present ad campaigns exhorting the public that they can win money lottery-style by keeping their savings in Sand Landian banks. Compounding interest is just so un-fun compared to photos of ecstatic newly minted gajillionaires.

Personally, I just don't have the time or nerves to constantly comb through my personal bank accounts. So the next bank transfer I effected was my own money. No doubt my neice will be seriously disappointed when she comes back this year.