How about a phone call

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To the Editor:

The letter published in your March 12 issue to Brian Devaney, regional director of Santander Bank, has prompted me to also write a letter to Mr. Devaney, which follows.

For many years I have had a checking account with the Vineyard Haven branch of your bank. Some months ago, without my being aware of it, the account became overdrawn.

How did you bring this to my attention? By mail. A card was written in one of your offices in Pennsylvania, bearing the date when you received my first overdrawn check. That card was postmarked two days later. It took three days to reach my post office box. I do not go to the post office every day to check the box.

The outcome was that six days lapsed, as I wrote additional checks, before I learned of the problem. Meanwhile, you happily honored 10 overdrafts, charging me $35 for each one, for a total of $350.

One of my checks was for $15. Do you really think a depositor would willingly pay you a $35 fee to cash a $15 check?

I pointed out to your local branch manager that a phone call on the afternoon when the first overdrawn check arrived would have brought me in the following morning to take care of the problem, and would have saved me more than $300 in overdraft fees. He was quite pleasant and congenial, but in essence his answer was: Quite impossible. Can’t be done. Far, far too costly a policy for the bank to adopt. No way.

I frankly and emphatically disagree. I don’t know how many depositors the Vineyard Haven branch has, but I would be surprised to learn that there are many days on which more than 10 or 12 of them overdraw their accounts. You have a phone number for all of them. One of your employees, at the end of each day, could contact by phone or leave a message on the answering machine, at a dozen numbers, in probably little more than a half-hour.

If I am far off the mark, please correct me. Is Vineyard Haven inundated daily with overdrawn checks? What is the average number of such checks per day?

A phone call could have saved me $300. Of course, that would have been $300 less profit for your bank.

I prefer to think well of my fellow man, but you may not be overly surprised to learn that I am just cynical enough to harbor a suspicion that your overdraft notification policy might be partly motivated by the opportunity it offers to extract unconscionable financial penalties from depositors like me who, for whatever reason, do not realize that their account is overdrawn.

Senator Everett Dirksen, apropos of the federal debt, once said, “A billion here, a billion there — sooner or later you’re talking about real money.” Well, $350 here, $350 there, is just chicken feed. But if your bank can keep hitting unwary depositors with hefty overdraft fees, eventually you’ll be able to feed a lot of chickens.

Robert E.L. Knight

West Tisbury