The call came from an eager young voice that called me Paul about every other word, so it was obviously a sales pitch.
What was it this time? I was being given the opportunity to invest in a company that was setting up stores to offer ATM access, check cashing, payday loans, and credit cards as well as telephones and phone cards.
I was told that when this company went public in about a year, I would make 10 times my money. When I asked what rates consumers would be charged, I was informed, We get $20 on a $200 payroll loan and 4% on each paycheck cashed.
Send me some material to read, I said, at which time the young man asked for my address.
Shall I put you down for $50,000? he added.
When I said I couldnt commit that much on the phone, he persisted, How much will you take?
I truly cant afford any, I replied. I just want your material to include in my newspaper column,
He immediately hung up, and soon I was pondering: Are community banks so underserving the public that people have to go to payday-loan outfits and their ilk for simple banking needs?
After all, this is not the old days, when banks didnt want consumer business. Years ago, when National City in New York (a Citigroup precursor) announced the startling news that it would begin making consumer loans, people lined up all around 42nd and Madison to fill out applications.
Then-Mayor Fiorello La Guardia used his Sunday radio program to plead with New Yorkers to borrow from National City and no longer use loan sharks most peoples only other source for personal loans at the time.
Today there is no reason why someone with a valid paycheck should have to pay 4% to have it cashed.
And yet the telemarketer said the start-up company had already opened eight stores in Florida. That goes to show a considerable segment of the population is fearful of banks. And bankers are not good at telling their story to the people who should listen.
How many consumers have no idea how much cheaper a car loan would be if they got it directly from a bank instead of having an auto-dealership salesman include it in a package along with undercoating and insurance? How many are unaware that most banks have special low-fee checking accounts for those who do not have large amounts to deposit?
If the typical bank surveyed its customers and asked if they knew they could buy stock in the bank, well less than 10% would answer yes.
Maybe banks are advertising in the wrong places.
Just recently I heard an ad for a bank offering $50-minimum accounts, with no service charges.
Where did I hear this commercial? On our local classical music station. Now it may sound snobbish, but if you ask me, few classical-music buffs would change banks to join one that welcomes them for as little as $50.
We see story after story of subprime mortgage borrowers victimized by bait-and-switch-type programs, inflated fees noted in fine print, and other ruses that are attracting attention from attorneys general in several states.
Honest ads by community banks could expose these come-ons for what they are. And community bankers must ask themselves what they can do to make such offers and opportunistic stores both unnecessary and unpopular.Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.