Money money money: Let’s take back the control
Heidemarie Schwermer, a German woman, has lived without money for 16 years. Doing odd jobs in return for food and clothes, Heidemarie claims it has made her happier and that money distracts us from what is really important. While an extreme example, I agree with her sentiment. Money does distract us and also scares us. And whilst I don’t think we could all live without money, I do think we could all change our attitude towards it.
So many of us are scared of checking our balances and speaking to our banks. Money can make us feel bad. The more you have the tighter you are with it, the less you have the more you worry about not having enough.
I have a great relationship with money. We get on well, we go everywhere together. I live within my means. I’m disciplined. I’ve educated myself about my finances because in 2004, I joined a well-known high street bank. In 2008, I took redundancy. In those four years of working in the banking industry, I saw how banks operate on the personal banking side. I would speak to people selling bank products that suited the bank’s needs, not the customer’s. Products that were useless, pointless, that had so many terms and conditions they would take over a week to read.
People would ring up looking for a balance on an account and they would leave with a loan. The team at the bank were getting people to open savings accounts when they were overdrawn; they didn’t have any money to save. But we were under so much pressure to save our skins and hit our targets; we followed the script never taking the customer’s personal circumstances into account. What I learned very quickly was that customers would more or less do what the bank suggested to them, as they were scared of getting in trouble.
Heidemarie Schwermer said: “I’ve always had to justify myself whether rich or poor” well-trained staff with clever tactics who steer conversations to suit their sales make it impossible to say no. Customers tend to think ‘It’s the bank, I don’t want to get in trouble,’ so we just go along with it. Banks don’t care about you, all they want is the sale.
When I left the bank I worked for, I remembered only encountering a handful of customers who would stand up to the bank refuse the phones calls and not buy into the sales tactics. And what could the bank do? Nothing. They just hang up and go on to the next call.
You’re under no obligation to take a phone call from the bank. How do you even know it’s the bank? They tell you they are and you believe it. What we don’t realise is we have loads of power over them – we just don’t use it. Whenever I get a phone call about my accounts, I have to answer the security questions to confirm who I am before they speak to me. If I don’t want to have the conversation (and I’m feeling in a mischievous mood) I give them all the wrong answers so they cannot continue the call. They also cannot accuse me of lying, Why? They don’t know who I am as they have not confirmed my identity. They hang up. That’s it.
“Forgetting” your date of birth or not knowing that your mother got married and that she had a maiden name does not affect your credit score.. I do my banking on my terms. If I need a loan, and I call my bank, they’re not going to refuse because once upon a time I wasted their time by giving them the wrong answers to their security questions. “Why? Because they want you to have a loan so they can make profit. And if your credit rating allows, they will give you one. They do what suits them. I just think that we should do what suits us and say no more often.
I think people need to stand up for themselves more. Yes, we’re in a recession and yes times are hard, but the more we let banks get away with, the longer the problem will last. Let’s embrace money and not fear it. How many people in the last 20 years in the UK have been sent to prison for being overdrawn or for missing one payment on a loan by a few days? None. In fact, banks love it when you’re overdrawn; they love the fact that you owe them money. They love their penalty charges.
It’s time that we all take a leaf out of Schwermer’s book and take back some of the control, and explore some of the things in life that cost us nothing. I was talking to my four-year-old niece about her new school and how excited she was to make friends. That conversation was more fun than anything I’d paid for that week, and it did not cost me a penny.
Andrew Ryan will perform his comedy show ‘Ryanopoly’ a look at money and how we deal with it at the Edinburgh Festival. 2 – 23 August 7.40pm at The Tron.Tagged in: banking, credit rating, finance, Heidemarie Schwermer, loans, money, saving accounts, security questions
Recent Posts on Notebook
- Justice for sale but who pays for the cost?
- The Road to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc - Majorca 70.3 Ironman
- The Retail Ready People project means the future of the high street is in your hands
- Don't get mad about Amazon and make the right ethical choice
- Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter