This is the only one of these tales not originating from my own years as a New York banker.
In 1949, while on his first return visit to his native Scotland in over thirty years, a Granduncle, now a citizen of the USA, decided to cash a few of the travelers checks he had prudently bought for this memorable trip. And the bank he chose to handle this transaction was unsurprisingly that very establishment in his home town still standing, remembered from his younger days. As he walked through the door, he was faced with an unchanged layout and decor. But he still felt a sense of intimidation which banks in the past sought to inculcate in the public.
Nevertheless, recalling his new status as a proud American, he strode up to the counter and declared that he would like to cash some travelers checks. The bank clerk excused himself and disappeared in the direction of his manager’s office. When he returned a few moments later, he offered his apologies to the visitor. “I am very sorry sir. We only cash travelers checks for our customers.”
This was quite an astonishing statement, one in direct contradiction of the essence of the travelers checks system of the time.
Not to be repulsed so easily, my Granduncle reached into a pocket and produced a rather dog-eared bank book. “Well, sir, I am a customer and here is my passbook in evidence. In addition to exchanging my travelers checks, I would like to take the remaining account balance in cash!”
The poor clerk took the passbook and again raced to consult his mansger. When he returned, he again apologised but this time in a slightly more gracious way. “Would you please have a seat over there sir. We first have to examine this account.”
It transpired that indeed the account was quite in order. But the remaining challenge was that interest had not been accrued for over thirty years. The clerk had to enlist the help of a colleague and they poured over dusty ledgers, reckoning the periodic earnings, interest upon interest. And this was long before the digital/computer age and calculator machines were not widely available.
After a considerable time during which the returned native watched the labouring clerks toil over his account, he enjoyed seeing the occasional local enter and conduct whatever business they had. Memories of his own experiences there came flooding back. He wondered what happened to that haughty lady behind the counter who treated all her customers as if she was doing them a great favour by taking in their filthy money or allowing them to take her clean money right out of the bank- as if it was their own!
“Excuse me, sir.” My Granduncle was stirred from his daydreams by the clerk. “We have completed our reckoning of your account. With thirty years of interest, you account is now valued at seven shillings and sixpence. Here are three half crowns and your closed account book.”
“Now, how much in travelers checks do you wish to cash?”
I never did ask Granduncle Donald if he would have bothered closing the ancient account if his original request had been honoured.