The Ecphorizer

The Basics of Double Entry Bookkeeping
Tod Wicks

Issue #32 (April 1984)

The fun really starts on the bottom line

Finally, although Bank of America says that we would have a Versatel number and a secret pass code, these are referred to under the section titled "EASY LOG-ON"!  Easy for whom?  I'm wondering whether the user can change his or her password to truly customize it?  If not (or even if so...), who else has the knowledge to decipher the code?  At least, if you lose your safe deposit key, you can see that someone physically has to blow open the box door!  But can't a hacker just nose around the code and override your "secret" password?  Like a magician doing card tricks, the electron is quicker than the eye!

Anyway, here I am, a certified computer hobbyist, arguing against such things as costly HomeBanking services. In case you came in late, let me recapitulate my argument:

Early in December I received a personal invitation by the Bank of America (remember the pressure in the '30s on A P Giannini to change the name of the Bank of Italy?) to be among the first to sign up for its new HomeBanking service. This service, touted to be "banking of the future," is crude electronic banking. HomeBanking may be technically workable at this time, but I'm extremely reluctant to use it for several reasons:

  1. It costs money
  2. It doesn't do anything for me that I can't presently do at my present bank (a Credit Union)
  3. There was absolutely no assurance, other than alluding to "your secret password," about the security of the system

Twice in the last several months I've read articles in the business section of my newspaper about Bank of America's reduction of personnel and its closure of branch offices. The first was in a story about how HomeBanking would offer the same services which are normally offered at branches by human tellers. HomeBanking was to save Bank of America so many thousands of dollars annually since Bank of America could reduce its staff and consolidate offices. The second article dealt mainly with Bank of America's plans to cut its teller staff to lower costs.

Now, along comes HomeBanking, which will now cost us users $8 a month! Bank of America, in its infinite avarice, has saved itself untold thousands by eliminating staff and by closing some of its branches, and now has added to its coffers (can "coffer" connote the magnitude of Bank of America's cash-on-hand?) by charging for services that used to be available for nothing to us.

For years I have been a member of a credit union which provides members with "share draft" accounts. That is, if you have a savings account, you can open what amounts to a checking account, except that it bears interest at the same rate as the regular day-to--day savings account. I have averaged monthly dividends of $6. This also includes subtracting out the amortized $12 per year it cost me for my printed checks.

Another benefit is that I can deposit by mail. I haven't had to stand in line for a teller for ages. In fact, if I have to go to the office, and there are people ahead of me, I merely take a number and relax on one of the seats provided, and enjoy some free coffee or tea.

My employer has thoughtfully provided a petty cash teller in our finance department. The teller's usual duties include handing out expense checks and issuing traveler's checks for those who are traveling on company business, but one of her functions is to cash personal checks for amounts up to $50 per day to all employees. If I forget to use this service, I can also cash checks at the Bank of Charleston Liquors or Safeway Bank while I am shopping. So, I have no problem getting cash in my pockets.

One of the attractions of HomeBanking, according to Bank of America, is the ability to pay bills electronically. Well, let's see how many bills we pay a month: two gas cards, two major credit cards, three department store cards, mortgage bank, telephone, and three other utilities. This comes to 12 bills per month max (actually my personal total is 8), at a cost of $2.40 per month for stamps. Bank of America can't guarantee that you'd be able to pay all your bills with HomeBanking, either. And, so far, none of those which one could pay electronically are offering discounts if you pay electronically.

In its description of HomeBanking's features, Bank of America doesn't list anything which I couldn't do today with a letter or phone call. Its major features are: Paying bills, Transfer of funds (from one account to another), Check daily balance, and Send or receive messages. The first was discussed above. I can take care of the next two over the phone. Besides, is it worth $8 a month to do those things? How many of us feel that we need to call the bank to check our balances more than once a month? I haven't done it for years! As to the last, now that grabs me! Send or receive messages? More junk mail, except now it's done over the telephone lines to my computer at home. About the only decent thing I can think of about this feature that makes it remotely worthwhile is that we can send messages to bank officers. However, I could still do that with a personal phone call or by writing a letter.

It is this overpowering drive for bigger profits at the expense of us small fry that makes me snicker when Bank of America's commercial intones,

"We got the money, we got the money!" So, those of you who own home computers, think twice before buying that $400 modem (a device that connects computers to the phone line), and the $200 interface card to connect the modem to your computer, before you think that $8 per month isn't too much for what HomeBanking offers.

In discussing with the Editor the realistic bottom line for hooking into HomeBanking, we arrived at these figures: A Commodore VIC 20 home computer now can be had for $90, a direct-connect modem is $60. This makes the minimum $150, plus that rip-off $8 a month to Bank of Avarice. However, with your new computer and modem, you can always call the STUART II electronic message/bulletin board system run by Nick Turner. Come to think of it, call STUART now, at 408-xxx.xxxx. It's a lot more fun than sending messages to officers at Bank of America, the IBM (read Big Brother) of banking.

Tod is the genius behind the production of The Ecphorizer Online.  This story was written in 1984, essentially the Dark Ages of electronic gadgetry where "home" computers were still a thing of the future and most of us were hobbyists. Tod writes that he's still a member of the same credit union and still gets cash at his local liquor or grocery store.    He hasn't banked at Bank of America for over 20 years, essentially for the same reasons indicated in the story.  His credit union now allows members to use its free online banking services. In the story to the left, Tod demonstrates once again innovation in the structure of the essay.  With a conclusion at both ends, his contribution can be read in any order.  Or Not.

More Articles by Tod Wicks

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