Tuesday, February 9, 2010

CHASE: Is it really that hard to cash a check?

So finally!!! I got paid for a photo used in the National Geographic book Food Journeys of a Lifetime, after over a year of waiting and lots of rigimorol. The check, (or cheque as they spell it back in Jolly Olde Englande,) was for a whooping $105 US Dollars. I emphasize US Dollars because when my bank, the same bank, was called  Washington Mutual they couldn't cash checks in foreign currencies. So when the publisher, Toucan Books, asked me how I wanted payment, I chose the check in US Dollars.

My old bank WAMU has been bought out by Chase Manhattan. And recently they installed these spiffy new ATM machines that read your checks. Unfortunately, the spiffy new ATM, repeatedly spat out my "cheque." Oddly enough there wasn't an option to deposit a check the ATM didn't recognize, it would just keep spitting it out and saying unreadable, despite the nicely printed text all over. So I went in and "queued up" to see a teller (I'm having fun with the Englishisms!)

After about an half hour of this young man trying, and phoning what sounded like a similar corporate labyrinth that we lowly customers must traverse, the teller stated without much confidence, that if the amount was for less than US$300 they can't cash it. Or perhaps they might, he said, but the fees would be so much as to only leave me with a few dollars. He really didn't sound too sure. And he said that they don't usually deal with this sort of thing. 

This took place about a 20 minute drive from San Francisco's Financial District. Well, Chase Manhattan, the world's seventh largest bank, and the third largest bank in these United States is apparently unable to cash checks drawn on foreign banks. Even in US Dollars if the amount is for less than $300. If the check was for less than $300 but drawn on the British bank HSBC (which happens to be the eighth largest bank in the USA for that matter. No wonder our country and our banks seem like such a basket case. Our citizens typically can't speak any foreign languages, at least those of us who've been here for more than a couple generations. And it would seem the same with our banks. They can't read a cheque if it's written in British English!

So, I tried to be polite to the poor teller who spent the half an hour of his day trying to figure out why he can't cash my cheque. But I hopped in the car and headed off to another bank we use for our savings, First Community Bank, a small bank based in Santa Rosa that has a branch in our local Nob Hill. This little tiny bank managed to check with their head office and take care of my cheque in about five minutes. So much for the big banks!

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