Saturday, November 22, 2008

What a Difference...

About a year ago, give or take, I was in a Wells Fargo branch near my home. At the time, they were running an advertising campaign, which one could best title as "Someday." There where flyers on the table near the door. On the cover was a couple, dressed in light winter clothing, with a string of Christmas lights draped over the woman's hands. They were looking about themselves (she to the left, he to the right) with the grinning excitement of children who'd just been given a toy store as their holiday gift. She held a sign. "Someday I could buy all the things I deam about." The flyer was a promotion for a prize, an annuity to be paid off at the rate of $50,000.00 a year for the next 20 years. Basically, any use of a Visa credit card was a chance at winning the prize.

I'd picked up the flyer because it struck me as indicative of the problem with banking at the time. Banks, as I had been raised to believe, were places where one kept money for safekeeping, and perhaps as a sort of investment (I seem to remember promised interest rates being higher when I was a child). So it seemed somehow broken to me to have banks pushing borrowing as a means of funding consumption, which, as we all are now painfully aware, is unsustainable in the long run. Now, I'm not a complete naif. I understand that banking is a business. And that the point behind business is to make money. It's just that this struck me as the bank pushing a program that wasn't in the best interests of its customers, and I was somewhat impressed that they would be so brazen about it.

A while back, I received a flyer in the mail from Wells Fargo. "50 Ways To Spend $50," it proclaimed. On the list were things like a Window box, Cordless phone, Twenty cups of coffee and New Jeans. Not wanting to be seen as promoting nothing but profligacy in difficult economic times, Savings bond and Give to charity also made the list. The pitch was for new Wells Fargo checking accounts. Open one with at least $100.00, the pitch promised, and Wells Fargo would kick in another $50.00. (I find myself wondering what the catch is - after all, the smart thing to do is to open a $100.00 account, wait for them to deposit the promised $50.00, and then close the account, and shift the money to savings. Surely Wells Fargo knows this, and has something in place to prevent such a move, or there are enough fees and whatnot that they're sure to get the $50.00, and then some, back from you no matter what you do. On the other hand, they could simply be that hard up for new depositors that they're willing to take the risk.)

In both cases, the bank seemed to be working to promote spending. But I find it interesting that this time they're pushing you to spend money that they'll give you, rather than money that they'll lend to you.

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