Letters From Leton: What Were We Thinking?

During my time at the Virginia Bankers Association back in the day, we worked with the General Assembly on a bill that required the date a checking account was opened appear on the face of the check.

The issue – merchants were getting so many bad checks, primarily on newer accounts, and losing lots of money. The perception was that if an account had been open for years, it was more likely to be a “good account” and the check not be returned.

I was reminded of this last week when a teller was cleaning up around her station and found a check from 1978. The check had dropped behind the counter somehow.

Drawn on a bank that once occupied our building, the check had the customer’s name, address, bank routing number, the account number and, drum roll… the customer’s social security number!

Why did banks and customers put social security numbers on checks? Because the merchants needed information to chase down bad checks.

I find it amusing that some customers (even some employees) are more inclined to use checks than debit cards for payments.

Handing someone a check is like putting up a billboard that says, “Here is my account information – please rob me! And if there is not enough in my account, please come take things out of my home – the address is conveniently supplied on the face of the check.”

How do we know if a crook gets a hold of your account info, buys a color printer from Wal-Mart, and begins passing fraudulent checks? We may not know for a month or two (or ever) until the customer reviews (maybe) his or her statement or their account becomes overdrawn.

Debit cards do not provide my checking account information or tell a crook where I live. 

And it’s easy to set up automatic alerts so I can be notified of use of my debit card or card number within seconds of a charge hitting my account.

In some ways, the real crime being committed is by Banks and employees who do not take the time or have the patience to educate customers. To set up alerts on their cell phones when their balances drop or a debit is made from their account.

What were we thinking back in 1978? Or 1988?

It doesn’t really matter – as long as we are not thinking like that in 2022 or 2028 in how we serve and protect our customers.

Stay safe.

– Leton

“Letters From Leton” is a blog series comprised of the weekly updates that Leton Harding – President, Chairman, and CEO of Powell Valley National Bank, shares with the Bank’s team members. These newsletters are full of uplifting anecdotes and intriguing insights that are applicable beyond the Bank, so we want to share them with you.