I was having a conversation today with a friend about the mystery of banks. We were both curious about the strange and dysfunctional dynamic between banks and bank customers.
Walking into a bank is often a bit like walking into a sacred place – a church perhaps. There are stern guards in uniforms to make sure you behave properly, and officious people behind little windows that you need to wait in line to see. The ceilings are often tall, as though you are in some sort of cathedral, and a sombre atmosphere pervades.
The whole feeling of waiting for a teller is a lot like going into a government office to ask for a visa or passport. There is the same sense of supplication, of being in the presence of something important, of needing to seek permission from those in authority.
The curious thing about this situation is that the transactions involved generally involve your own money. You’ve put your savings into the hands of these people, and they are supposed to be looking out for it on your behalf. On a fundamental level they are not all that different from your doorman or housekeeper – people who are performing some useful service for your benefit. People who are in your employ.
So why the power reversal? One theory is that there is a strange aura attached to having lots of money – even other people’s money. In a sense a banker is someone who stares all day at a big pile of money on his living room table – lots and lots and lots of money. Millions of dollars of money.
Yes, he knows that it’s not his money – it’s actually an amalgam of bits and pieces of the wealth of others – but nonetheless, he’s got it, ownership be damned. After all he can see it – it’s in his vault, in his computer, in crisp hundred dollar bills at the fingertips of people who work for him. Who cares who actually owns it?
You, on the other hand, only possess title to this money, perhaps a measly tens of thousands of it, or perhaps even hundreds of thousands. Whatever. You are merely the puny and insignificant figure in this vast fiducial drama who happens to legally own the money.
The banker is a giant striding upon the earth, a god descended from Olympus to trample across the vast stage of history upon a cushion of millions of dollars of borrowed wealth. But you? Poor poor little you. You are a simply contributor to this magnificent drama, a bit player, a working stiff with a paycheck. How dare you presume to breath the same air as a banker?
One day we might all realize how much of a scam this is. And then the sense of entitlement of people who watch our money for us will melt away, and we will gain our rightful place at the table as owners of our own hard-earned wealth.
You never know, it could happen. But I wouldn’t bank on it. 😉