Good banking requires good ‘piece’ of mind

I have the confidence, really, that my bank would stay behind me

I frequently have ambivalent feelings about my bank. Not for anything specific that it does.

I have had my accounts with my bank in three provinces, coast to coast, since the 1960s and can say with a fair amount of certainty, that I have never been hassled by my bank. I doubt if I am alone in that respect, either.

Clearly, it’s not that they have any kind of dependence on me either, over and above my continuing loyalty for their role in helping me be where I am in life today. I certainly know and understand that they would like to do more to help.

That said, I’m well aware of the power of a bank in your life and therefore content to stay on the right side of assets and liabilities.

But – my bank still falls into the category of one of the “Top Five Big Banks” in Canada – so it has to bear some of the responsibility for some of these ambivalent thoughts.

I believe my bank when it tells me, frequently in different ways, that my various accounts and dealings with them are important to them. Why shouldn’t they be? Most banks, I expect are thankful for the many thousands of account holders, big and small, for their ability to earn gigantic profits most quarters, most years.

But banks also have to exercise their obligation to the country to ensure that the day-to-day economic balance across the country remains stable. So, contrary to a normal customer-based business, banks are always in the forefront of warning Canadians when the country’s level of consumer debt becomes sufficiently out of kilter.

Therefore when I hear that interest rates may be going up to counter anything – too much consumer debt, real-estate price runaways in Toronto or Vancouver, or for whatever reasons, I know I should be concerned.

Just today, the Bank of Canada is again warning that high levels of household debt and overheated housing markets in Canada’s largest cities remain the biggest risks to the Canadian economy, but they are being mitigated by strong economic growth and an improving job market.

It’s comforting (to me) that more than 80 per cent of that debt is tied up in mortgages (because I no longer have one) and home equity credit lines, which allow homeowners to borrow against the value of their homes. Like most people, I have access to one of the latter, available for emergencies and flexibility.

So I don’t tend to dwell deeply on these issues – nothing I can do individually about the excessive costs of accommodation in Canada’s biggest cities. I can only work to keep a handle on my own debt level. I do that by religiously paying my bills.

This does not really offset my negative ambivalency about banks in general – particularly when they tout their record quarterly profits and when I compare that with the niggardly negligible levels of interest rates on monies in my savings and current accounts.

Then there is the constant drumming for a bit more business – or to take on a new, better credit card, or to up the level of debt I can incur because I don’t run it up… I don’t plan to get rich in the near future and I’m not working at it particularly.

They provide online services that I use regularly – just the ability to skip writing most cheques, stamps, envelopes and post boxes seems worthwhile, and a debit card is simply invaluable in shopping. And I certainly appreciate the senior-citizen exemption on some bank charges.

Couples in their seventies may be less inclined to face the hassles of exciting travel to the exciting holiday – so I try to maintain my assets, pay my insurances and in effect try my best to cover my butt in the event of anything unexpected.

I have a quiet lifestyle – I don’t begrudge myself much if I really want something, but I’m just likely too Scottish to be too crazy – but that would be a credit only in the eye of the beholder.

Again – I really don’t think there’s anything exceptional or even particularly special about this.

But I have the confidence, really, that my bank would stay behind me – and that’s something I do value.