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PCBB Banc Investment Daily November 13, 2013
Banc Investment Daily
November 13, 2013

Lizard People and Urban Legends

There is a polling organization called Public Policy Polling where pollsters ask pertinent questions about viewpoints regarding elections during political campaigns. They also ask some unorthodox questions. For instance, they recently released polling results about a number of conspiracy theories and we thought you would like to know what people are thinking. A full 29% of people believe in aliens, 21% believe they visited Roswell, NM in 1947, 14% believe the CIA developed crack cocaine and 14% believe in Bigfoot. Further, 7% believe that the moon landing was faked and 4% believe that lizard-people run the US. This poll was taken in March and it is possible, given the October government shutdown, that the lizard-people-in-charge changed polling results, as it should have been stronger. In any case, note that 4% of the population would total 12mm people. Think about that the next time you talk to a customer.
People love a good conspiracy and theories abound on the internet and social media. Web sites like Snopes explore urban legends, myths and rumors and have become an important checking point for almost any silly story (maybe including this one). Snopes divides its research into categories and we noted that many legends related to banking had to do with either inattentive or poor customer service. A well-known fact of customer service is that people remember and tell others far more frequently about poor service than good service. The same appears to drive what people believe.
Customer service lesson: A man who refurbishes old buildings and was dressed in shabby construction clothes asked for a validation on his parking stub after cashing a check. The teller refused, explaining that a transaction like a deposit was necessary for a parking validation. The customer then asked to speak to a manager who agreed with the teller. The customer then closed his account, which totaled more than $1mm, and found another bank down the street. The moral of the story don't judge customers by their appearance.
A lesson in carelessness: A con artist noted that many people come into the bank and use the blank deposit slips on the counter, but then ask tellers to look up their account number. The con took home blank slips and pasted his account number using the same type-face as the bank's and left them in the cubbies on the teller desk. Customers didn't notice, tellers saw an account number and processed the deposit. The con man took in the day's deposits for the branch and ran away with millions. Most banks are very careful with customer verification and this scam wouldn't work with mobile deposit or other electronic channels, but the risk remains. As banks trim staff to improve efficiency, having enough staff to maintain quality control is important.
A few other fun legends in the verifiably false category: A person wrote a check on the side of a cow and cashed it. This is a tall tale from British literature. Finally, there's a story that the FDIC takes 99Ys to pay back depositors in insured institutions or only pays 1.5% of balances back to depositors.
As bankers, we know the difference between the truth, legend and what's outright incorrect, but it is important to remember that our customers may be swayed by misinformation. As such, part of your job as a key member of the community is to keep your customers and the public informed with real information.