I understand the anger people feel toward banks, but personally I’ve never cared whose name was on the door. As long as they cash my checks, take care of my money and give me a little something in return, then I’m content. Many of the occupiers feel otherwise and advocate that we abandon the big banks entirely, but I don’t think moving my money to a credit union will send a message. If anything, it will mean more ATM fees. I switched to Chase to avoid just that and so far have been satisfied with the results. All of this has made for some conflicting feelings lately, none more so than when I wanted to start a CD Wednesday.
On this day, OWS was continuing their “Billionaires March” by taking it to the source: the Chase offices. While I could’ve just gone to my local branch, it somehow seemed more fitting to make the trip in town. If a full-fledged protest couldn’t change my mind about banks, then nothing would.
At One Chase Plaza, barricades had been set up around the main area to deter congregation. Cops were out in decent numbers, but the group of protesters milling on the corner couldn’t have been larger than 30 people. Around the corner and down a hill, the main entrance held a few cautious onlookers but was otherwise quiet. Once I went through the revolving door, an unimposing security guard asked for my ID, until she learned I was going to the bank and let me pass. Just like that, I was in.
The lobby was vast and brightly lit, with full windows looking onto the bank itself where an enclosed fountain rose in the center. Inside, the employees all looked somewhat anxious. Two jumped to meet me before I even touched the carpet. After explaining my plans to a woman in a pantsuit and a scarf covered in Chase logos, we began the negotiation process. Her take on the day’s protest consisted of uninformed bemusement, as did her reaction to my Maine license. All was going smoothly until I accidentally dropped the word “business” and her ears perked up immediately. Despite my repeated assurances that I didn’t need a new account — had just closed one in fact — she soon went to retrieve Trinidad, the business banker. Ten minutes later, I was in his cubicle signing up for a whole new account plan.
I hadn’t planned on taking this route, but they’d both said the rates were so laughably bad that it was better to wait until something changed. I’m not sure why it wasn’t possible for things to get worse, but if they did at least I’d be enjoying the benefits of my new business package. In addition to upgrading my other accounts, they were even going to give me a safe deposit box! It also didn’t hurt that Trinidad, a Staten Island native, was quite friendly and inquisitive. Over the next 15-20 minutes we talked about everything from raising families to the economic disparities in restaurants, smiling easily and often.
Through it all we avoided the subject of what was happening outside, but I couldn’t help but wonder how riled up the crowd was by now. Would I be decried as a scab or hailed as a mediator? Trinidad’s assessment of the situation when he stood up to retrieve some papers didn’t help.
“Wow, there’s protesters outside. You should go have a look. Good luck getting out of here,” he said excitedly.
Sure enough, a stream of sign-waving protesters was moving past on the sidewalk. With my un-tucked flannel shirt and overgrown hair, I could easily pass for one. Yet when Trinidad came back he was friendlier than ever. While he wouldn’t get too specific, Trinidad agreed that the system wasn’t quite right and said he understood where the occupiers were coming from. I even learned about his mother-in-law’s issues with an Adjustable Rate Mortgage that she’d been talked into. Upon hearing that I’d come down to cover the action, he jokingly hoped I hadn’t been recording our meeting and of course I hadn’t. Any decent reporter has a good memory for details in such situations. After a couple of handshakes and some friendly parting words, I made my way back through the desks to the lobby. The other employees glanced at me warily, but not for the reason I expected.
“Good luck out there,” one man said.
For the last half hour at least, I’d become a part of the Chase family. I’m not sure they’d feel the same way if they knew I’d been aiding the occupiers less than a week before, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered right now was facing the throng of protesters outside. I was prepared to handle anything, but to my disappointment the crowd had disappeared by the time I stepped back through the revolving doors.
Perhaps they’d figured out, as Trinidad informed me, that Jamie Dimon actually works Uptown. Or perhaps they just realized that their message wouldn’t be heard. Any pack of Manhattan bankers — especially ones that work a block away from Wall Street — know how to talk their way around anything. I didn’t realize the implications of this until later that night. Instead of helping save my money, they’d encouraged me to spend more of it. At first I felt misled, but the next morning I realized it was all on me. No one forced my signature on those papers. I’d been swept up by feeling successful in Chase’s subterranean fortress of capitalism. Once I called Trinidad the next day to sort out a more realistic approach, all was well.
Despite the complications, this experience has just solidified my belief that banks are only as bad as we let them be. It’s their job to paint a greener picture of the situation and it’s our job to bring them back down to reality. If this movement can help do that then I’m all for it, but if it just wants to tear things down for the sake of it, I’ll have to respectfully step aside.