Mother’s Day Musings on Banking, Activism and Allyship!

I have been banking with one of South Africa’s ‘big banks’ for more than 15 years – with 4 different accounts to accommodate my personal and business banking needs. I’ve been unhappy with this bank for a long time, but I have not had the courage or energy to switch to another bank.

This year, towards the end of February, there was a glitch in my bank’s online banking system. As a result, I was unable to access the funds in my investment account (to pay the Provisional Tax and VAT that was due to the South African Revenue Service by month-end).

Over the course of the next 2 days, I called the customer care centre many times; and after being transferred from pillar to post, I made no progress in resolving the problem. Finally, I used my rank (my whiteness, my westernness, my English-speakingness, my able-bodiedness, my almost 50-year-oldness, my post-graduate education, and my well-developed sense of entitlement) to call a regional manager in a different department within the bank; who used their rank to call the people in the relevant department; who, in turn, used their rank to make sure that I had access to the money in my account (just in time to meet the SARS deadlines and avoid the hefty penalties).

That same day I transferred the remaining funds into my current account and closed the investment account. (No one at the bank was able to explain why the glitch had happened, and I didn’t want to risk it happening again.)

About 7 weeks later, towards the end of April, I received a text message alerting me to a purchase of R2800 on my credit card at a supermarket in Durban. I live in Johannesburg and at that moment I happened to be sitting in a workshop in Welkom. (This was the 3rd case of fraud on my credit card in the last 12 months.)

I called the bank’s customer care centre. They quickly blocked my credit card and asked which branch I would like the replacement card sent to. I asked if they intended to charge me another replacement card fee (remember, I have already paid 2 replacement card fees in the past 12 months). When they said “yes, you will be charged the standard replacement card fee” I asked them not to send a replacement credit card, and to rather close that account. (I just can’t get my head around my bank benefiting from fraud on my credit card.)

So, in the space of a few months, and through no deliberate planning of my own, I have gotten rid of 2 of my 4 accounts with my bank. In other words, I am already halfway out of this relationship! Even I can see that NOW is the time.

So last week I phoned another of SA’s big banks (the one that is currently rewarding customers for switching to them). I shared my intentions, and they immediately asked for my ID number. Being somewhat cautious (once bitten, twice shy), I asked why they needed my ID number. They replied “I thought you wanted to switch to us.” Partly excited (since it seemed like it was going to be a quick process) and partly confused (since that didn’t really answer my question), I said “Oh…the process starts now? Tell me more.” To which they dropped the phone. They realised I was going to require some work, and they hung up on me.

I was about to call back, and then I thought:  sjo, this relationship hasn’t even begun and it feels like a lot of work. This does not bode well.  And I hit the pause button (I stuck my head back in the sand).

So, here I am, on Mother’s Day morning, wondering what my banking options are.

There are 4 ‘big banks’ in SA. In the past 21 years, I have been a customer with 2 of the 4 (including my current bank); and I have been hung up on by a 3rd. So I begin wondering about the smaller banks, and I do what any of us would do…I start Googling!

And I discover that one of these smaller banks has the first black woman CEO of a commercial bank in SA.

My decision is made. First thing tomorrow morning, I am going to switch to this bank. In the same way that I have decided to only visit women health care professionals (who can advise me on how best to care for my female body with the benefit of their own lived experience in a female body), I’m going to entrust my banking needs to a woman.

I have no idea if this bank will offer me a better banking experience. But I do know that if you want something different, you’ve got to do something different. And doing something different requires being brave….

And then it dawns on me:  here I am, in 2019, talking about how switching to a small bank led by a black woman CEO is a brave thing.

And now I REALLY know that this is my new bank. I might not know much about the banking industry, but I do know a little bit about racism, patriarchy and misogyny.

I know that they are like an infection. And, without even knowing it or liking it, they influence our decisions and our behaviour.

And I know that they don’t work. I know that systems designed to separate us from each other do not benefit or grow us; they destroy us. They have failed us and will continue to fail us – both locally and globally.

So, this is my mother’s day present to myself:  finally mustering the courage and the energy to switch banks. And, in doing so, the reminder that every decision and every action (no matter how small) provides me with an opportunity to challenge systemic oppression, and to contribute to new ways of being and doing in the world.

And I leave you with a similar gift:  How might you – in both big and small ways – begin to challenge and dismantle the current systems that separate us from each other?

Happy Mother’s Day from Journeys to Remember!

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