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.