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September 3, 2014 | 8th Elul 5774

In the Bank

August 24, 2003
Marc Rosenstein

Our foundation has its account at a local branch of one of the big national banks. I hate going there, as it seems that even the simplest transaction can take half the morning just waiting in line. It is not clear why the lines at this bank seem so much longer than those at the neighboring bank where I have my personal account.

But wait, there's more. Last time I stopped in to pick up quick-deposit envelopes (for shekel checks; for a cash or dollar check deposit you have to wait for a teller), I was informed that they were discontinuing the quick deposit box. Checks could be deposited by feeding them into the automatic teller machines outside. Annoying, as now you have to park, wait for the machine, and go through the entry process; definitely a reduction in the quality of service.

And so, the other day I stopped by to deposit a few checks. With each attempt, the screen displayed a red X, with the legend: "account blocked." I went inside and was delighted to see that there were only two people ahead of me for the clerk who deals with our account. After ten minutes or so I found myself first in line, and was feeling pretty lucky, when a man with two young children in tow appeared and placed himself in front of me with the classic "I was here before." I was just working on my scowl, when a woman appeared, got behind him and in front of me, and informed me that she was next in line after him. This was of course a well-known Israeli cultural phenomenon, too familiar to evoke more than the usual rush of adrenalin, and a lame sarcastic "is this all, or are there others waiting in the wings?" No, they assured me, I was really next after them. And then, just as the man with the two children was about to move forward to sit in the clerk's booth, he was brought up short by a young pregnant woman who pushed herself into the space between him and the booth, asserting firmly that she was in fact next. The man, and the woman behind him, both looked stricken – and suspicious. But nobody said anything.

Finally my turn came, and the clerk was sympathetic, but could find no obvious problem. It took about 45 minutes of investigation, including a long call to the bank's computer center in Tel Aviv (yes, there were people behind me in line – lots of them by the time I left), to determine that in the computer, there was no street address listed for the foundation. Since Israel has been cited as a major center for money laundering, new laws have been enacted to tighten record keeping on the owners of bank accounts, especially corporate and institutional accounts. Hence, the computers have now been programmed to block any transaction in any account where any information is not up to standard. What is puzzling is: how it is that that very same computer has been printing out statements with the foundation's mailing address on them for ten years? In any case, the problem was solved (in a few days).

Meanwhile, the clerk handed me a few quick-deposit envelopes. "Your secretary called and said how hard it was for you to make deposits in person, and I found a few of these still lying around, so you can use them up." I thanked her profusely, and then confirmed: "Now, for dollar checks I still have to come in and bring them to you in person, right?" "That's right, if you read the instructions on the envelope, it states that only shekel checks may be deposited by quick-deposit. Of course, the bank won't get into an argument with a customer over this; if someone puts a dollar check in the envelope, we will have to accept it…"

Life is so hard, small victories are sweet.

 

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