Back then: Banking was personal, but not without challenges | At the time

I don’t like physically entering a bank to transact. Using the drive-thru window can be just as annoying. While doing so, it always seems like there is someone online who is taking a long time to complete their business; invariably there is someone asking questions or making transactions that might be better served by stepping inside to speak to a cashier or bank clerk. My experiences today are not new; problems with physical travel in banks have been around longer than I have been using banking services. But, I’m grateful that technology has developed ways to eliminate many of the challenges we faced with banking back then.

You may remember the days when you could walk into your bank and get friendly customer service. You knew the cashiers and the cashiers knew you. Today, customer service is a thing of the past, not just in banking, but in most businesses.

In the past, going to a bank did not make you feel defensive, especially when withdrawing your own money. Even a long wait in a queue brought some pleasure as it gave you the opportunity to catch up on the events of the past week with your neighbors patiently waiting in line. There were even chairs near the counters where the elderly could sit until their turn at the window came.

It seemed at the time that everyone was using the same bank. There was Beneficial, Philadelphia Savings Fund Society (PSFS), Girard Trust, Central Penn, Industrial Valley Bank (IVB), Meridian Bank, Provident, Continental, Germantown Savings, and my regular bank, First Pennsylvania Bank. Then there was the Citizens and Southern Bank which had branches at 19th and South Streets, 19th and Chestnut Streets and 55th and Chester Avenue. I have to admit that Citizens and Southern Bank were way ahead of my time, but I remember my dad speaking fondly of “the bank for colored people.”

Yes, I have been to banks to do business in the past and always had a friendly bank representative I could talk to. These days conjure up memories of bank books; some of you will remember bank books. But that was then and not today. When it is necessary to interact with a bank representative today, it is often over the phone and the bank representative is often located in another location such as North Carolina or Florida. So, while I physically visited banks in the past, today I try to do as many banking transactions as possible through the automatic systems that are available to a customer; systems that weren’t available to us at the time.

Do you remember waiting at work for your paycheck to be distributed and then racing to the bank to make a deposit? Perhaps you remember the days when your employer paid you in cash. Yes, cold and stumbling money! Can you imagine working in an environment where someone comes to your house with cash and hands it out with a payslip detailing your earnings and deductions? He wasn’t sure then and clearly wouldn’t be now.

Whether you were paid by check or cash, you faced the challenge of physically going to the bank to deposit money into your checking or savings account. Compare his behavior in the past with that of today. Most people have direct deposits for their salary. If one needs to check his balance or see if a check has been cashed, it is either telephone banking or online banking. This same technology is used for transfers between accounts. Now think about what you did, back then, after bank hours and on weekends when the banks were closed.

Can you imagine surviving without a monetary access card (MAC), now known as a debit card? Well, most of us have done that in the past. So what did we do? You probably remember having money hidden in your home. You may also remember that there was a relative or friend you could borrow a few dollars from in an emergency. Due to Pennsylvania’s blue laws, cashing a check at a store or bar on Sundays was out of the question. Thus, you often had to postpone your purchase or other activities to another day when you could go to the bank. But today we have the debit card. You simply go to an ATM and withdraw cash or perform other transactions. If it is your bank’s ATM, there is no charge; otherwise, there are fees for non-bank ATM transactions. There is usually a maximum limit for a withdrawal, but it is usually a reasonable amount. It definitely beats the past where the result would be that there would be no money available at all.

With all the introductions to streamlining banking without stepping into a bank office, I consider mobile banking to be at the top of the list for banking convenience. Think about it, you can get a check at any time of the day and, using a banking app on your smartphone or tablet, make a deposit. You identify the medium, take a photo of the check, front and back, and deposit the check in your current or savings account, with your money usually available the next day. Some banks even offer deposits over the phone. So if you have direct deposit for your paycheck, use of a debit card, mobile deposits, use of Venmo and other apps to make payments, be thankful for all the banking technology that exists today, then imagine how you would survive if they didn’t exist as they did and the challenge, back then.

Alonzo Kittrels can be contacted at [email protected] or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146 The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Philadelphia Tribune.

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