And Hell is where bankers are created!
I have a very good friend and work colleague who is currently in Europe on business. She was expecting a cheque, representing a considerable amount of expenses from a previous business trip to be paid her by the company, but knew she’d have already left. I was quite flattered that she asked if I’d mind depositing the cheque into her account so she could use online banking whilst abroad to handle her various domestic banking affairs. We determined that the requisite flavour of bank was indeed available in the town where I live, and we jointly made sure the various company finance people involved in the cheque cutting and distribution process knew that I was to receive the cheque rather than keep it under lock and key until her return.
So far, so good…
The cheque was due on Wednesday, and she was relying on the financial promise it represented to be safely sloshing around in her bank account by this coming Monday. For reasons unknown, the expense cheques weren’t processed until yesterday… Friday. Because of our careful preparation, there was no problem getting her particular cheque raised in priority to acquire the two necessary managerial signatures and safely placed into my possession well before I left for the weekend.
Then the fun began…
I ambled up to the appropriate bank’s local branch and briefly took my turn in the Saturday morning queue. The polite young man asked how he could help and I explained my task, handing over the company cheque and the card number previously supplied to me by by friend. “But this is a VISA Card number” I was informed. I explained that my friend – clearly identified in type on the computer printed cheque – was a customer of this august establishment and felt it was not beyond their means to identify her chequeing account based on the provided information from their own VISA number. Politely, the cashier explained he’d need to talk to his manager. After a few minutes where I felt I was being scrutinised by many unseen eyes, and frankly felt like some dodgy bank robber, he returned to explain that the cheque was not “certified” and that were it to “bounce”, my friend would be required to pay fees associated with that event. (Here in Canada, the recipient of a fraudulent cheque is charged by their bank rather than simply not having the funds made available to them!). There was a fee of $35 – payable by me – to have the cheque certified, and I would have to travel in person to the branch of the bank used by our company, in order to have it certified.
At this point I checked my watch… no, I hadn’t slipped back in time. This was still the 21st Century. Here I was, trying to place money INTO an account, yet I was being treated like a fraudster trying to extract money illegally. I had already had to show ID to establish my own bona fides and now I was being expected to travel physically to downtown Vancouver and pay my own money so that the issuing BRANCH (not merely a random branch of the issuing bank) could verify that it was indeed from our company’s account and that they had sufficient funds to honour it. “But there’s good news” enthused the cashier – “It’s with the same bank, so we may be able to do it on the phone from here.” Oh joy! We have at least recovered time back up to the ’70s.
Having reluctantly agreed to pay the $35 to have my friend’s money deposited into her account, he went back to check the process with his manager. After a further interminable wait, and phone calls, he returned and apologetically gave me the cheque back. They had decided that since my friend had not flagged her account to tell them that she was leaving the country, and had not informed them in writing ahead of time that a third party was to deposit the cheque, they could not assume that I was in fact carrying out her wishes. What if she had really wanted the cheque depositing into some other account?
I was gobsmacked! Here in the internet age where utility companies insist on charging you money if you want a paper copy of your bill, and we encounter steady pressure to go more and more to a paperless business world, I was in a position where I couldn’t place money INTO an account on behalf of a friend. Other banks let you take photographs of a cheque and email it. This one wanted me to travel on a 100km round trip to have a business cheque physically certified AND obtain written permission from the account holder before they would accept the cheque.
Hours later, I still find myself snorting in disbelief. Their only offered alternative was for me to give them CASH (my own).
Bureaucracy… mankind’s greatest triumph!