03 September 2009

Thumbs Down, Bank of America

I don't have thumbprints. I mean, I guess I do, but not very defined ones. I was burned when I was very young, leaving my hands, face, and thighs considerably scarred for the remainder of my life.

I've never really talked about the accident. Or the scars. Or the effect they have had on my life. In fact, there are many people who have known me my entire life that have never heard me say a word about it. Sure, I get asked from time to time "what happened to your fingers?" (mostly by children). I try to answer politely, "I fell into the remnants of a fire when I was very young."

The reasons I don't discuss this, aside from the amazing amount of discomfort the conversation causes, are these: I can wear long sleeves. I can sit on my hands in certain social settings. I can wear long gym shorts. Sometimes I can even forget that I'm different.

There are way too many people who don't have that luxury.

Many burn victims simply cannot hide their accidents. They inspire me to be thankful that my scars are where they are...mostly concealable. They remind me that no matter how bad you think you have it, there is always someone out there who wishes they could be more like you. They also remind me that boo-hooing about something outside of your control is senseless. Accidents happen. Life happens. The only thing you can do is try to make the most out of what you have.

I have never allowed myself to be put into the category: burn victim. Truth be told, my scars have always been one of my biggest sources of drive. You see, when you're different all you want to do is fit in with those who are not. It's stupid, but it's true. I have always felt that I needed to be a little bit smarter, a little bit friendlier, a little bit more out-going, and a little bit more confident to get others to accept me as an equal. Again, it's stupid...but it has always been true. So, in that light I'm thankful for my uniqueness. It's always been one of my biggest strengths.

I am disclosing this information to you here to frame my thoughts about the story making waves in the world of social media about the Tampa Bank of America branch that refused to cash a customer's check because he had no thumbs. Turns out, Bank of America customer Steve Valdez has prosthetic hands. He has no thumbprints. He could not possibly comply with the branch's security policy that requires employees to verify customer identities via thumbprint scanning.

My take? Don't be offended by the policy. Don't automatically label this discrimination. (I get offended by people who are easily offended). Let's face it, the policy wasn't very well thought out. The way the staff reacted to Mr. Valdez' physical disability was inexcusable. The entire situation was simply an admission that the bank doesn't know their customers very well, doesn't empower its employees to use their own judgment in situations that require breaking policy, and/or doesn't hire employees who are smart enough to figure which situations require such action.

I am much more outraged by the inflexibility the staff demonstrated in this case than the policy itself. Get the smartest, most compassionate people on the planet together to make a policy, and there will be something or some group that they simply didn't consider. There are plenty of people without thumbprints, but let's be honest here...how many of you would have thought of them when developing a security policy? I may have, but that's only because I don't really have thumbprints. I don't fault Bank of America for that oversight.

I do blame them for not empowering their employees to serve with compassion. I blame them for not knowing their customers. I blame them for refusing to accept two forms of identification from a man who clearly has no other way of verifying his identity. I blame them for being a bank that has proven time and time again that service is, at best, an afterthought. I blame them for making someone who desperately wants to feel normal feel anything but.


Jeff Hardin said...

Really a terrific post, Matt. The truth is we all have scars and all any of us hope for is to be treated with dignity & respect when we reveal those scars, physical or otherwise, to others we are in relationship with.

By any measure, Bank of America failed at this simple truth of human interaction.

You wonder if someone in that branch wanted to take a stand and do the obviously correct thing - even if it was against the standing policy. That they couldn't, wouldn't or didn't is sad as you have so eloquently expressed.

Kelley Parks said...

Great post as usual, Matt.

This one really struck a nerve for me. My father had polio as a child and grew up paralyzed. Despite being very handicapped he has a successful business and has overcome amazing odds. He always said that having polio was the best thing that ever happened to him, since it forced him to use his "brains instead of his brawn" as he often says. He was the first in our family to go to college, and even go on to have a successful business. It was a very inspirational way to grow up. But I think he always felt the same way having to overcompensate to fit in.

I think sometimes adversity makes people somehow stronger, more driven, more human and helps them see life in a different perspective than most. It's what makes life's overachievers.

What happened at B of A is sad - whether it was a big bank or not. It's a symptom of a larger problem - process over people and an overall dehumanizing of the service experience.

wazaroff said...

Great post Matt. What insight. Thanks for sharing this personal story.

Anonymous said...

Dear Warrior,

I know you were brave - thanks for sharing your personal story.

I've been reading this book called 365 Tao - Daily meditations. Basically each day there's a word, a symbol and a story. Today's word is Dove.

The story was about a Dove that got caught in the rafters of a barn and an attempt to release it.

Here's the last paragraph:

"She couldn't understand my intentions and so was hurt. I was unable to help her without being frightening. Were all living beings once connected? Perhaps so, but in this world, the pursuit of love and compassion is not without pain and confusion."

I read this before reading your blog post. It made me think of the great distrust that is in this world. From cutting people off in traffic to avoiding eye contact walking out to your mailbox. It's sad.

It's time to start trusting again.

PS - the dove was finally released but not before it was knocked unconscious by running into a wall to avoid being saved.

Andy Janning said...

"Be true. Be brave. Stand. All the rest is darkness." --Stephen King

BofA shows us what the darkness looks like. Thanks for reminding us what bravery looks like.

Janine said...


Well written my friend.

Every since the book QBQ was recommend to me, I've sung it's praises to others. In the book, John Miller, does a great job using stories to address personal accountability and responsibility.

Until we take the time to get to know people, we don’t know what challenges and hurdles they have overcome.

The world would be a much better place if we all took responsibility for what was in our control and showed more compassion to others.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Matt. When I first read that article I was at a loss to comprehend how the branch employees could have been so blinded by policy that they didn't see an alternative solution. Is the culture at BofA so CYA that no "outside the box" thinking is allowed (Sorry for the cliché.)

Those of you who know me know that one of my passions is the Victory Junction camp in Randleman, NC. This is a camp for chronically ill or injured children who cannot attend regular camps because of their medical needs. One of the reasons I love this camp so much is that every time I volunteer there I am inspired by the passion and compassion of these young people, who have to overcome their differences in order to "fit in." To them, accommodations are commonplace. They may not be able to do things the same way you and I do, but given some time and a few tools, they can do almost anything. Their only boundaries are the artificial ones put in their way by people who don't understand their desire to be as "normal" as possible.

As Jeff said, we all have scars. Some are visible and some invisible. Everyone should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Massive fail for BofA, but it could have happened anywhere that creative thinking is discouraged. Don’t think credit unions are immune. I’m sure you all read the articles about Navy FCU and their inflexibility in enforcing their “No Hats, No Hoods, No Sunglasses” policy at a San Diego branch. A little creative thinking and empathy for the member/customer could have avoided a very embarrassing situation.

Tim McApine said...

Great post and comments. Thanks for sharing Matt. I agree with all that has been said. A culture ruled entirely by policy creates a organization devoid of humanity.

Lori Jablonski said...

Thank you for sharing your personal story :)You are an inspiration....

Adam said...

This is a wonderful post.

It's incredible that employees would be so spiritually eviscerated that they were paralyzed by policy.

Incredible and very, very frightening.

Mike Banks said...

Mark - great post and thanks for sharing!!

Phillip Crocker said...


I am a fellow Credit Union employee and blogger of sorts. When I came across your blog, I stopped down to read it. Actually, I read it three times in a row to make sure I really got it's meaning. You're a wonderful writer, so that was not the reason for the re-reads. I just really wanted for it to sink-in way down to my core. I suffer an affliction known as Psoriasis, so I know what the questions and comments are like. We share a little more than CU stuff and blogging.

I thought so much of your entry that I have posted one on my website encouraging my readers to read your blog as well. Don't expect to get a significant gain in your hits any time soon. However, I wanted to share with our members and followers your great piece of work.

Thanks for being a part of the movement!!!

- Phillip


Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

Thanks, everyone, for your very kind comments! This was a tough post for me to write, but I felt compelled to share my story in light of Bank of America's clear insensitivity. Sorry for not commenting sooner - I was at a rare loss of words.

@Phillip Thank YOU for being a part of the movement. Your comment reminds me of how many different ways people can find common bonds with others. I look forward to checking out your site.