By Arthur Vidro

A local bank has rejected me.

I wasn’t asking for a loan. I was merely trying to open a checking account.

It started when an advertisement arrived in the mail. A certain bank in town which I had never frequented was seeking more business and was willing to pay $200 to each new customer.

According to the rules, if one were to open a checking account and request a paperless statement, and make a deposit at least once a month, then come the end of winter the bank would post a $200 bonus to the account — after which, if you wanted, you could take the money and run.

The bank had its incentives, I’m sure. Perhaps it wished to sell checks. Or earn commissions on debit or credit card usage. Or collect overdraft fees. Or collect ATM fees. Or make money from marketing the new customers’ names and addresses to others.

Me, I wasn’t going to ask for checks or plastic cards. I already had a checking account at a bank here in town that I’m most happy with. But I was willing to start an account at the competing bank, just to earn the $200.

The missus and I went to the bank offering the deal, were secluded with an employee named Ashley and together we tackled the paperwork. I handed over $50 to start the account. An account number was assigned.

Everything was in place – almost.

My money was in the account, the account was in my name, the forms were all signed, but somehow the process wasn’t complete. I still needed to be authorized to do electronic banking – even though I explained I would never do any electronic banking.

Ashley phoned her company’s headquarters to try to get the account finalized and was given a computer code to input. The code didn’t work. Ashley worked hard and long on it, but to no avail. She concluded the company’s master computers (not the computers at the Claremont branch) were down.

In short, if this were the 1970s or 1980s, there would have been no problem. But in the computer age, everything that can be done via computer must be done via computer.

Ashley didn’t have the correct access code. Instead, the master computers – without human action – had sent the access code by telephone to my home. After spending nearly an hour at the bank, we went home and played the phone message, wrote down the access code, and returned to the bank the next morning to complete the transaction.

It still didn’t work.

Ashley explained that the access code sent to our telephone was valid for a mere ten minutes.

“Ten minutes from when I played the message?” I asked.

“No. Ten minutes from when it was sent.”

The access code had expired before we had even gotten home to play the message.

More access codes were then issued – all of them useless. We would hear them later, long after they had expired, upon returning home.

I don’t think the computers that rule the world have human beings in mind when they issue access codes that expire in ten minutes.

Ashley worked the telephones, trying to rectify the situation. She asked various officials to relay the codes directly to her. They confidently sent her what they were convinced would correct the problem, but they were mistaken.

She even left the room to use a computer assigned to one of her colleagues.

Throughout Ashley’s herculean and time-consuming efforts, I calmly read a book. My wife calmly knitted.

Eventually, Ashley returned wearing a lopsided grin.

She tried to speak but the words weren’t coming.

“I recognize that look,” I murmured. “It’s the chagrined look of someone who has just realized that despite the best efforts of every human being on the premises, and despite everybody’s agreeing that I should get this account, the computer gods who run the joint have ruled against me, and nobody can do a darn thing about it.”

She silently nodded.

So I closed the account, got back my $50, and we left.

Over two days, we’d spent an hour and a half at the bank. For nothing.

I give Ashley credit for trying, and if this had taken place a generation ago she would have succeeded. But computers are cruel masters.

So... if you get a flier in the mail suggesting you can get paid $200 to open a bank account, throw it away.

Or, if you insist on trying to open the account, bring plenty of knitting projects or books to read.

If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro in the care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend.

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