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Treatment at Century kills faith in banking

 IN February 2003 my 12-year-old son had $10 000 left over from Christmas and rather than blowing the lot on the usual rubbish that kids buy, he asked me to open a bank account for him.

na, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Really impressed with my parenting skills and the fact that somewhere along the line I had taught him some responsibility, I proudly took him along to Century “Bank” (and this term is used very loosely), handed over all the required documentation and deposits and left with a happy little boy who was one of the few in his class to have a bank account.

Within the next two months his ATM card arrived and this was all very exciting as he now had a personal identification number (Pin) to memorise and keep secret from his sisters! And then nothing came until March 12 – the first correspondence in over a year!

The letter was opened with great excitement on his arrival back from boarding school for the weekend and great expectations of a larger sum of money being in his account because mum had explained about huge interest rates etc. And then the face dropped as the mathematical skills that his school had been taking great pains to teach him kicked into effect.

“Why have I only got $1 200 in my account, what happened to the rest?” he asked.

Thinking that he had lost the plot somewhere, I took the statement from him to try and explain how to read it. After a couple of seconds of astounded disbelief I had to explain that he had read it correctly.

As tears welled up in his eyes, he asked me to explain why. Why did the bank take his money when he had not had any use of his account for a year?

Now, as a parent I could very easily have just said: “Look, here is your money back, don’t worry, it’s all better” or I could have said; “I am going to go and personally disembowel the moron who thinks that it is okay to take the sum of $9 000 in “service charges” for sending out one item of correspondence from an inactive $10 000 account, pay interest of $340 for 13 months and then forcefully close the account as the minimum deposit had risen to $20 000 (of which we had no notification). Or alternatively, still making an attempt to teach my child how to do the correct and responsible thing, say: “I will go to the bank on Monday and try to sort things out”.

The latter was the best option (although every fibre of my body was calling for Option 2!).

I arrived at the bank at 8am on the Monday and went to enquire as to the correct procedure to take in this matter. Having stood around trying not to interrupt the individual behind the “customer relations” desk in her endeavours to recall her entire weekend to a friend, Option 2 was becoming more and more inviting! Eventually this extremely uninterested person asked if she could help. Finding being civil becoming more and more of a problem, I related the situation to her. She nonchalantly told me to speak to the manager and to proceed to his office. I explained that I was not prepared to wait yet again and wanted this to be sorted out.

In all fairness, $10 000 for a bank to pay across to an account holder in an attempt to shut them up from a bank which charged up to 800% in interest on loans should hardly be a problem.

After further standing around, a very opinionated gentleman strolled up and informed me that he had heard my complaint and had phoned Harare for advice. They apparently told him that all banks charged these rates and basically “bad luck, nothing to do (sic)”.

Now the next problem, to lie or not to lie, that was the question!

I could lie to my son and say: “I went to the bank and they were really helpful, realised that they had made a mistake and gave me all your money back!” thus reestablishing his faith in banks, and me!

I decided not to lie. He will have to learn that we now live in a world where theft is acceptable and justifiable. He will have to learn to understand that although others can steal from him, it is never right and the act hurts innocent people.

The new secret he will have to keep from his sisters is not a Pin, but where he has buried his money tin!

A Cynical Mother,


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