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Words are fascinating ... Put them together in the right way, and we can communicate with people in other places and other times. Make a mess of it and ...

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Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Thursday, February 22, 2007

You Can Bank On It!

Am I the only one who can remember the days when governments existed to provide services for the public? When doctors made house calls? And when banks prided themselves on serving their customers?

I'm not?

You can?

Then prepare to weep, boys and girls, because I have a tale to unfold ...

It started when I made my weekly trip to our friendly local financial institution. "Bank" is far too simple a term to encompass the many functions of this business. While standing in the queue, I did a quick check around all the posters and noticed that not only was I able to deposit my hard-won earnings here for safe-keeping, I could also insure my home (and contents) against anything the Universe cared to toss our way (excluding flood, fire, theft ... these are all optional extras).

Then I could take out loans for everything from a personal holiday to a takeover of a small country.

I could get a credit card, a debit card and an EFTPOS card ...

I could do a spot of hedging my foreign exchange thingummies ...

For crying out loud, I discovered I could even have a private bank! But only if I qualified ... Sadly, only eligible customers can aspire to this lofty dream. All I need to do to meet their eligibility criteria is to "hold or have the potential to hold account funds in the region of $750,000 by way of credit funds, debit funds or a combination of both."

Hmmm ... deficient in the dollar department to the tune of several hundred thousand ... But there's always next year!

After passing a pleasant few minutes in my reveries, I finally made it to the counter, where I engaged in friendly repartee with the teller regarding the Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Cheque.

This sad and sorry saga began back in August when I deposited a cheque from a source that has been sending me cheques for many years. A few days later, I received a letter from my bank that set in motion what was to become an epic of biblical proportions. It involved individuals from two continents. It utilised communications by email, by fax, by phone and carrier pigeon! And it nearly broke the spirit of many a good man ... but not this little black duck!

My cheque, you see, was missing the BSB codes, those magical numbers along the bottom, which meant that the Banking Universal Management sector responsible for sorting and forwarding cheques for payment, wasn't able to process my poor little orphan. I was informed, on one of the many occasions I enquired politely about the current state of play, that if cheques lacked their bottom codes, they would be spat out of the machine.

"And?" I asked.

But received only a deafening silence in reply, for it seems, dear reader, that that is that.

Now my question, and it's a curly one I admit, but I'll pose it to you, is this: in the 21st century, when banks are making billions of dollars a year in profits, is it too much to ask that they supply a book of BSB codes and a ballpoint pen to the person sitting watching the cheques that are spat out of the processor? Could they then also, and I know that it's a bit of a stretch, but could they then require that said person look up the BSB code in said book, then pick up said pen and write the bloody number on the cheque?

Sigh ...

After finally getting the bank to admit they'd lost my cheque, I was asked to get a replacement one issued by the paying bank. (Banks, it seems, don't communicate with each other.) This I did, and the bank most generously offered to pay the cost to replace the Vanishing Cheque.

The cost was the grand sum of US$25, which amounted to $31.54 in Aussie dollars. (Remember that number, it's crucial to our tale.)

A few days after depositing the replacement cheque, I had a phone call from my bank telling me they'd also deposited the $31.54 fee.

"Woohoo!" I said, "and the $10 fee you removed from my account at the beginning of the saga?"

"Sorry, no," I was told by the bank, which had just posted a half-yearly profit increase of 25% and had pocketed a measly $85 million.

Coincidence? I'll let you be the judge of that.

So I put the experience behind me until the monthly statement arrived. Glancing quickly at my balance I was astounded. A quick check of the figures showed a deposit not of the expected $31.54, but a rather more generous $3,154.00.

"How kind, " I thought. "They're compensating me for six months of angst."


Another trip to the bank, and I was face-to-happy-face with the person who'd been helping me all these months. I quietly slid the bank statement across the counter to him, pointed to the entry and watched for his reaction.

It was almost worth all the hassles!

Sigh ... (again)

Even though I'm now $3,154.00 poorer, I did get paid the original $31.54 ... eventually. And when I notified the bank's customer complaints officer ... er ... sorry, I mean the Customer Relations Consultant about the latest snafu, I also got the $10 fee refunded. This person had been on the receiving end of some of my scintillating repartee over the past months as we investigated what I always referred to in correspondence as the Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Cheque, so I felt we knew each other well enough to let her in on the finale.

But wait! There's more ...

The bank, mindful of its hefty profit (yes, I must confess I did remind them of it in one of my many missives), did actually also send me a gift voucher to spend in a store near me. Or maybe it was my new best friend, the CRC, thanking me for the six months of entertainment at the office water cooler viz: "You'll never believe what's happened now!"

Who said banks have no heart?

Just in case you haven't come across the word "snafu" before and think I made it up, I want you to know it's a real word. Well, as real as any word that started life as an acronym can be.

This amazingly useful word originated during World War II. It can be used as a noun, an adjective or even a verb, (I told you it was useful), and it means:

a badly confused or ridiculously muddled situation.

in disorder; out of control; chaotic.

–verb (used with object)
to throw into disorder; muddle.

It started life a little less politely when US soldiers came up with it as a way of "conveying the common soldier's laconic acceptance of the disorder of war and the ineptitude of his superiors, which seldom fails to delight." (

The words abbreviated were: Situation Normal All Fouled Up (or words to that effect).

After reading this entry in The Write Way, Terry Lavelle wrote, "It (snafu) has a sibling you may be aware of – or interested to know about – or not.

"The word is “fubar”, and it means "’Fouled’ (to use your own euphemism) Up Beyond All Recognition”. I wonder how many more interesting words these military chaps have coined – and if any of them don’t have the letter F somewhere in them."

If you're a military type and do know of any more such words, I'd love to hear about them!