My first job out of college was a bank teller – a humbling experience making $14 an hour after being a collegiate athlete. Beneficially, and in addition to giving me a healthy dose of humble pie, the job taught me a ton about people and how their lives are directed by money. It was a great prerequisite for entrepreneurship because it forced me to learn many critical skills we all use in our daily ventures: problem-solving, persuasion, deflecting someone’s anger and turning it into a positive, how price always matters, and how to quickly build rapport with a stranger.
Throughout my day as a teller, I probably helped 75-100 people with their basic banking needs, and I did it for roughly nine months before being promoted. I saw all sorts of ‘people-weirdness,’ and also how similar many people’s spending habits are. It also showed me just how pretentious people can be… imagine an attractive, tall woman dressed to the nines come into the bank and approaches your wicket. She’s wearing the Tiffany necklace, fancy shoes, shades and has breast implants. You’re probably thinking she’s a rich model or married to a millionaire. She gives you her bank card and hands you a welfare cheque in her name…
This is the weirdness you see as a bank teller. The job was a deep dive into the psyche of humans and their sometimes strange relationship with money.
Another amusing story: One of my favourite customers to help was an elderly Chinese man. He was a multimillionaire solely on what he kept in his bank accounts, and visited the branch every week. A real gentleman who shared with me a bunch of cool stories. He would always wait for me to help him even if there was another teller available before I was. Almost every time he came to my wicket, he would check the latest GIC rate (Guaranteed Investment Certificate) – it is the safest investment one can make. And, if the rate had changed even a tenth of a percent, he’d request to sit down with a financial planner to see about getting that new rate. Getting a rate change of that nature would mean a difference of probably $20 over the course of a year, but he would take the 30-minute meeting to get it done. This gentleman didn’t want to leave anything on the table…
I don’t know about you, but my time is worth more than that (unless of course, I am a bank teller. In which case $20 for 30 minutes is worth it 🙂
Had another nice man with hundreds of thousands in his savings account come to my wicket monthly and deposit a bag of dimes and quarters – talk about penny-pinching!
Six Things Being a Bank Teller Taught Me About Money and People
Money makes people feel important: Those transacting, whether it be getting a mortgage or depositing money into their savings account, feel important. For most people, going to a bank or buying a car is the most business-like activity they ever experience.
Cultures differ when it comes to money: To my benefit, the branch I worked at was in a multicultural metropolis. I witnessed the stark differences between cultures and how they save, spend and view money. Broad brush strokes, of course, I’ll share my findings on some – and no this is not racist, so spare me…
Westerners, let’s call them, are a mixed bag when it comes to money. The elderly, those who grew up in and around the Great Depression, are as fiscally prudent and risk averse as they come. Great savers and they love to be charitable. The youngsters, however, may be the worst of all with money and credit.
From my experience, Chinese people above the age of 40 are prudent with their money and love a deal. They aren’t emotionally attached to their money, and they understand that everything is negotiable. They appreciate having the ability to make acquisitions and investments. They are matter-of-fact when it comes to transacting and love efficiency, valuing the opportunity to get in and out of a transaction quickly. Put a contract in front of them, however, and they transform into the most analytical of business people.
East Indians, I found, are much like the Great Depression-era Westerners, except they are more willing to take on risk. Great savers and not frivolous. They bargain for sport, which I like, and always appreciate small talk when transacting.
You’d be shocked how many people have little to no savings: Many people (I’d guess near 40% of those who visited my wicket) from all walks and varying across age groups, had $300 or less in their bank accounts. Perhaps they had investments elsewhere or savings accounts, but I doubt it. Many people simply aren’t liquid. Our economy is built on credit.
Most people carry a credit card balance: Credit is an intoxicating trap for many – particularly the financially illiterate. And the majority of people I served at the bank had a running credit card balance. They made fractional payments on their balance, with many just covering the minimum every month. Young people were the worst of all. Give them a credit card, and three months later it is likely maxed out.
Under 30 years of age group are financially illiterate: This demographic has a low-level understanding of the most basic financial subjects. They often had no clue how interest accrued, how a delinquency impacted their ability to garner future credit facilities and what it means to be solvent. They seem to view credit as a right, not a privilege. Scary.
Losing money can turn soccer moms into monsters: No one, of course, enjoys losing money. But for many, losing money leads to anger, resentment and sometimes outbursts of rage. For example (and there were many), take a small soccer mom who was new to my wicket. She had little in her bank account and was recently charged $50 for bouncing a cheque. She had a history of writing cheques which couldn’t be cashed. And this $50 penalty drew her account to almost nothing. She pretended not to understand why it happened, so I reiterated. After repeating twice why she was penalized, this 5 foot 4 inch 110 lbs. woman went nuclear on me…
She spewed out many choice words, denouncing the bank I worked for as an evil empire, etc. After demanding my manager, and chewing her out too with four letter words, the woman threw her bank book behind my wicket and stormed out of the branch…
People hate losing money. They’ll spend more on an item than it is worth without much regret, but a perceived loss of even $20 puts many in a sour mood and causes some to unleash their angry alter ego.
Understanding how people/consumers view money and their relationship with it is critical to your success as an entrepreneur. It’s the medium of exchange which dictates your business’ ability to grow. In short, working at the bank and dealing with thousands of people’s money taught me to gently broach the subject of cost while boldly explaining the value of the product provided. Almost everyone believes they work hard for their money. So, provide the very best value to them, educate why your product/service is of value in their life, and that’ll make it easy to part ways with their capital.
Respect the money.
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