Monday, 30 March 2015
The Machine, part II...
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
The bank card. In modern times, it is an absolute necessity to have a bank account. If you didn't, you would not be able to work, for a start, as the vast majority of employers pay wages by BACS payments to employers' accounts rather than by cheque or in cash, as aforetime. Until I worked for the bank, I had no notion of what sort of account I had. I knew I had some sort of savings account, which was unused (or emptied, I should say), to which a current account was connected but I knew nothing of the benefits (or malefits) of having these accounts. But then I was made to fill my head with different "packages" offered by the bank to prospective customers as part of my job. These "fits" have changed over the years. For example, when I was a teenager I had a plain bank card attached to a simple current account. The card was "chip-less" and could only be used at ATM's operated by the bank and could not be used in shops. I did not, at this time, have a cheque book. But I remember that this restriction meant that I had to pay cash for everything. That is not a bad thing. Nowadays, simple accounts offer debit cards. My account was upgraded when I went to university (although I hadn't then heard of a "student account"), I was given a cheque book and my bank card was subsequently made with a "chip." I became addicted to this "chip." I was delighted that I no longer had to traipse all the way to an ATM to retrieve money from my account. But this chip makes people lazy! It is corrosive of local branch banking, is a means of control and debilitates the ability to budget our finances. The bank controls the release of the funds and the remittance has to be authorised, and this process, which can take some days to be statemented, is watched by a "fraud department," a team who have immediate and permanent access to our transactional histories and carefully document our spending habits; exact dates, times, places, amounts to be debited (or credited), and we're none the wiser. It is not seldom that a transaction is stopped at the point of sale for the simple reason that it is out of your spending habits! You then have to telephone the bank's fraud department and explain that the transaction is genuine and ask for the funds to be released. It is iniquitous! It is long since your bank account was between you and your bank manager!
The banks also maintain a "score" for each customer which is calculated every month based on your transactions, standing orders, payments and other account activity. Your score will go up or down based on meeting your financial obligations but the score is also calculated on how much you use the account, and in what ways. This can be using a credit card, opening different savings accounts, using Internet and Mobile banking facilities, setting up standing orders and regular payments to beneficiaries, keeping a balance on the current account above a certain amount, and certainly not making use of an overdraft facility; all under the watchful eye of the banks. If, however, you make use of an ATM or you withdraw funds from the counter, your score will go down, not up. The banks don't want you to use cash! Why? Because cash is blind; cash is between you and the seller, and the banks cannot authorise it. And if your score goes down, don't expect to receive any offers from the bank! Don't be surprised if you're excluded from any promotions! I've also noticed recently that there has been a campaign, under the pretence of "going green" and the prominence of Internet banking, to abolish paper bank statements. I had to visit my local branch and actually make a formal request to stop this and get my paper statements back. This is not because I am in favour of felling trees without cause (and I do tire of the environmentalist monopoly on "care for the environment") but because it is a principle. It's like your cheque book. We all know that cheques take up to seven days to clear but is that really excuse enough to abandon them altogether? My mother lost her cheque book and she says she doesn't miss it. I certainly would.
On the subject of savings and credit, I have to say I am very dubious. Interest goes against the moral law (no wonder the Jews practised usury!) and so the propriety of having a credit card and savings accounts is in serious doubt. I have never owned or used a credit card. But I realise that we live in the world; people have mortgages and pay bills using their credit cards, etc. But I think that the most ethical way of banking is to rely on your local branch as much as humanly possible. Emphasise the community; know your bank manager's name, regain control of your own spending and ultimately take no thought for the morrow. The chip is quite possibly the mark of the beast. Have a care, then, lest you do the will of the Devil and remember that you are in Christ!