Six Cents

By: Dennis Bates

I don’t know for sure how much it costs to process a check these days, but I’m guessing it’s way more than six cents. Still, I received a totally negotiable check  before Christmas for exactly that amount because I closed out a small investment account.

When I used to get involved in such things, processing a check used to cost $20 to $30. It may be more now. Whatever the costs, they are more substantial than six cents which makes my check almost laughable  until you realize that businesses don’t ever do anything for free. All costs are usually born by the customer one way or another.

In this case the costs of processing a six cent check may at least partially explain why my returns on that account have been about the same amount as the check for the last year. That’s one of the reasons I closed it.

 Not more than a week after I closed the account, I got a letter from the nice people who had been holding my money virtually interest free for the last year or so. I say virtually because there was a modest fee involved for their willingness to hold my money and for two years in a row it exceeded the amount of interest I received for the money in that account. The net result was that my annual balance kept dropping.

The letter I received acknowledged that my account had, in fact, been closed, and the check that accompanied the letter represented the balance left in the account. The $000.06 check. I looked at it several times to make sure.

I called a customer service number that I finally found by reading the fine print on my account statements. It’s not that there weren’t phone numbers on the statement. There were lots of them. One  for opening a new account, another for transferring balances from one fund to another, or adding to an existing fund. There just wasn’t a conspicuous number for how to close an account, but  it was there, and I  found it.

I finally got a real person after being shuffled from one computer message to another and asked for the same information three times so they could provide me better service.. The first question the real person asked for was  my full account number. I had already provided the number twice just to discuss a six-cent check.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m thinking at least one of those requests, and probably two, weren’t really necessary. For six cents, my service didn’t need to be that much better. What was the point of giving the computer the account information, if the person was going to ask me the same things. Why not just skip to the person from the beginning?

The representative explained to me in his best professional manner that the check was computer generated and had to be issued so that the company could balance its books. I suggested that perhaps there should be some sort of  de minimis rule waiving refunds below a certain point.

The representative responded by saying the whole process was computer generated and therefore out of their control. I asked him if the computer program that generated the check was designed by other computers or was it perhaps something that involved human input.

 That comment missed him entirely. He fired back almost immediately that perhaps I didn’t understand that  there was no human input. Everything was handled by computers. I suggested that some human had programmed the computer to issue checks, so the same human being could reprogram the computer not to issue them.

Again, the response was almost immediate. He insisted that no human beings were involved and that nothing could be done to reprogram the computer because…”they have a mind of their own, you know.”

At that point I decided I would not pursue the matter. For similar reasons,  i decided it was probably not a good day to engage the representative in a thoughtful discussion about God’s grace or the Second Coming. Although if he had told to me that no human beings were involved with either of them, I would have been forced to agree.

Some days are just like that.

P.S. I’m framing the check. It will mean that somebody’s books won’t balance, but how often do you get tangible proof that it takes God to create something that makes sense, even if it’s just a check for six of the them?

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