Thanks to computer technology, banks can recognize almost instantly how important a customer is.

These day, a family's accounts can be combined to determine which are superprofitable, which are so-so, and which could be dumped without harming the bottom line.

Many banks' telephone systems can even tell if the caller is a top-, middle-, or bottom-tier customer.

If the customer is from the top tier, the call goes to the top of the priority list and is answered immediately by a person. Middle- and bottom- tier customers, meanwhile, are stuck listening to elevator music.

Of course, even before the days of super-knowledgeable computers, banks had ways to make people feel they were extra important.

Wells Fargo & Co., for example, had a "gold card" long before this term was used for credit cards.

For $4 a month, customers would pay no fees for travelers checks, a safe deposit vault, or other bank services.

Sure, the $4 fee was more than they would have had to pay for a regular account at the time. But it was popular because the bank indicated in its promotion that people with the gold card were special-and everyone wants to feel special.

Unfortunately, I am not special to my bank - something I realized during a recent trip to Israel.

Needing cash, I put my ATM card in a machine that had that welcome "Plus" sign on it. Only this time instead of cash, I got a notice on the screen that read, "Card has expired."

I looked at the card carefully-something most of us never do-and sure enough, it was early May and my card had expired at the end of April.

Sure, I should have known. But I assumed, as most people would, that if a card was about to expire, the bank would automatically send me another.

Luckily, I always carry two ATM cards, and my card on my secondary bank- which may become my primary bank because of this incident-did spin out those needed shekels.

When I returned home, I did what most people would: I called the "800" number written on my expired card and asked, after the customary wait for a person, why I was not sent a new card.

The answer: The computer is down; call back later.

I called back later. The computer was up. The bank's agent said, "Hold. I'll find out what happened."

Fifteen minutes later I gave up holding and decided that I would have to act like I was special.

I called their friendly branch manager and left a message on her machine and asked her to call me back. Less than a half hour later she did.

She said there had been a glitch and I would get a replacement card- which still hasn't arrived a couple of weeks later. So I went down and got a new card, with a new personal identification number and no expiration date, like any new customer walking into the bank.

Conclusion: It would be nice to be one of the special customers.

But sometimes banks should work harder on the other customers too. Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is a professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.

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