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Like dj vu all over again: The perils of banking mergers

Back in the Paleolithic era, when I was 12 or so, I had an afternoon paper route. At month's end, I collected money from customers, bought a money order, and mailed it to Memphis to pay for the papers.

It dawned on me, as budding entrepreneur: I need a checking account. Plus, I was concerned about the safety of the wooden Roi Tan cigar box that served as my bank.

Cigar box clutched tightly, I walked up the marble steps of the downtown bank, into the cavernous room lined with teller's cages, waited my turn, and announced to the primly-suited banker that I'd like a checking account.

Opening my box gingerly, as if it might contain a dead rat, he counted the money, giving each bill a crisp little “snap” as he piled it atop the one previous. When done, he stacked it back in the cigar box, shoved it through the slit in the metal cage, eyed me coldly, and advised, “Young man, we don't open checking accounts for less than $100. You've only got $57.”

Crestfallen, I took the box and headed for the door. Standing nearby was the bank president, to whom I delivered a paper each afternoon. He beckoned me to his desk.

“We don't usually open checking accounts for youngsters,” he explained, “and we do have a $100 minimum. But … now and then we make an exception.” Reaching into his desk, he extracted a card and pushed it to me. “Sign here,” he said, “and we'll take care of you.”

I walked out feeling 10 feet tall. Long after I was grown and moved away and the bank president was long dead, I kept an account at that bank.

When I came here 30-odd years ago, I opened an account at a local institution, ABC Bank. Then began the banking merger mania. ABC Bank became DEF Bank, etc., eventually becoming MNO Bank, part of a regional chain.

Months ago, the newspapers advised that MNO Bank was being gobbled up by PQR Bank, an even bigger regional group.

OK, yet another set of checks, a different ATM card.

But because of arcane federal regulations, PQR Bank wasn't allowed to gobble up my bank. Instead, it was one of a handful taken over by STU Bank, a much smaller regional outfit.

STU Bank sent a PIN number for an ATM card I hadn't received. When the ATM card came, it wouldn't work. Next day, two letters with two more PINs, which didn't work either. Then two more ATM cards.

None of which mattered, since the ATM machine had been shut down. “We don't have enough cash to fill it,” was the explanation. Which is sorta like KFC telling its customers, “We got no chicken.”

Two weeks post-takeover, still no operational ATM. Muchly hacked, I went to PQR Bank, which was supposed to have taken over my bank, but couldn't because of the feds, and said, “I'd like to move my checking account.”

“Oh, I'm so sorry,” I was told. “Because of federal regulations, we can't accept accounts from that bank.”

I'm currently searching for a wooden Roi Tan cigar box …

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