ID or Not ID: That Is The Banking Question

Clout. That’s what it takes to get a check cashed today. Clout and two valid pieces of ID. When the bank won’t accept your ID, what would you do? Here’s what I did.

One day, I walked into a local bank to cash a patient’s check. I’d done it many times before. It was always a simple, innocuous two-minute procedure. Little did I know that this time, things would be different.

I handed the teller the check and my driver’s license. She said, “We need two pieces of identification for you to cash this check. How about a credit card?”

I told her, “Someone used the number to vacation in the Bahamas. Although I eventually didn’t have to pay for the trip, I spent six months and many hours getting the problem solved. I don’t want to go through that again so I don’t let that credit card number float around.”

I looked through my wallet for a likely acceptable piece of ID — AAA card, car wash punch card, girl friend’s picture. Nope, none of those would do. Then I found what I was looking for. “How about my osteopathic medical license?”, I offered.

She looked at the wallet-sized license, duly-issued by a recognized governmental and legally empowered agency, the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners in Medicine and Surgery. “That and my driver’s license ought to settle the matter,” I said confidently to myself.

When, with a quizzical look, she signaled the manager for help, I knew trouble was coming.

The manager looked the license over carefully. “We cannot accept your medical license as a valid piece of identification. Do you have a credit card?”

Dumbfounded, I again related my credit card fraud experience. The manager explained that the teller was just going to write the number on the day sheet. The information would go no further than that. The manager expressed utmost trust in her teller. I was more wary.

I thought, “Who else would see that sheet with my number? Any banking employee with a mind to could discover the credit limit and be off to the Bahamas by morning.” I stood firm and wasn’t going to let a chance of credit card fraud happen.

As you can imagine, the argument between unthinking bureaucrat and non-bureaucratic customer quickly heated up. Regardless how logically I explained the situation, the branch manager just wouldn’t accept my osteopathic medical license as valid identification and insisted on my credit card number. Trying to be helpful, the teller interjected, “Doctor, do you have a fishing license? We could use that for identification.”

“No”, I told her. “I don’t have a fishing license.”

As we talked, I thought, “With this osteopathic medical license, I can prescribe narcotic drugs, deliver babies, hospitalize patients, manage people’s lives. Anyone, I realized, can buy a fishing license with just money. But, a person can only get this osteopathic medical license after almost a decade of expensive testing and training, and governmental evaluation and critique. Yet, at this bank that shall remain nameless, (the bank that has more ATM’s in Arizona than anyone else) a physician cannot cash a two figure check unless he has a fishing license.

I felt as though I had just dropped in on a Martian branch of this bank, a bank claiming to exists to serve me, the customer.

Suddenly and without warning, the storm cleared as the manager’s attitude took a new tack. With a gleam of self-interest in her eyes, she suddenly purred, “Now, if you would like to open an account here, we would most certainly cash your check.”

Did I sniff a commission in the air or was that bonus points for the latest branch competition?

Dumfounded, I replied, “You mean that after all this aggravation about simply cashing a check, you want me to open an account?”

What a coup in banking public relations this manager made. She clearly understood human dynamics. First, use the stick then the carrot. In my experience, this is how families turn normal children into schizophrenics.

As expected, I left the bank, ID’s and check in hand.

* * * * * * * * * *

Getting this check cashed became a minor mission in my life. To accomplish this mission, I first had to have all the facts. I thought I should find out just what the ID regulations were and if the branch manager knew what she was doing. What better place to get the proper information than where banking power begins. No, it’s not as you might suspect. It is not the customer. It’s the man at the top of the banking food chain.

I wrote Mr. Bank President. “Mr. Bank President”, I began. “Would my driver’s license and duly issued license to practice osteopathic medicine in the state of Arizona be acceptable identification for bank check cashing purposes.” I try to write long, involved, important sounding sentences when communicating with bureaucrats. Bureaucrats better understand what you mean when you write about simple things complexly.

A bureaucratic aid replied to my letter. In a seven-line, single-spaced, one-sentence paragraph she told me that the bank requires two forms of identification. The Arizona driver’s license was acceptable. The medical license would be acceptable if it had my name, address and a photograph.

So, there it was. Since the osteopathic medical license lacked address or photo ID, the duly issued medical license was unacceptable for bank identification purposes. According to banking regulations, the manager acted appropriately.

Now, not having a picture or address on the osteopathic medical license doesn’t stop hospitals from accepting the osteopathic medical license as part of physician credentials. Besides, my credit card, totally acceptable, had only my name and some numbers — less information than the license. I still don’t understand why the bank refused my osteopathic medical license as a valid ID while accepting the credit card stymied me.

* * * * * * * * * *

One busy week with patients then another went by. Since I had made no time to get a fishing license, I was stuck with only my two pieces of identification and my check. Still, I had common sense and the determination to find a way through this bureaucratic quagmire. I knew, however, I’d need more than that. Because it was just me up against the bank that has more branches and ATM machines in Arizona, than anybody, I needed divine inspiration. Without divine inspiration, I was powerless against these odds.

Then, driving by that very same bank one day, it happened. In a flash, the answer came. It was an answer so brilliant, yet so simple. It required no special knowledge and no high tech equipment. It required only a shift in perspective and an appreciation of bureaucratic mechanics. Better yet, it just might work.

Now, here’s the flash. These lumbering, over-stuffed, unthinking bureaucracies are by their very nature, inefficient. Sure, they have rules and regulations. Yet, what the front-line employee does with rules is another story.

Maybe I would find a teller with more mental voltage than the prior bank teller and bank branch manager. Maybe, I could happen upon someone who’d interpret the ID rule a little differently. Maybe, they would even accept my osteopathic medical license as valid ID for bank check cashing purposes.

Check in hand, I drove to the drive-in window of the very same branch of the very same bank that shall remain nameless, a bank that is everywhere in Arizona. I put my driver’s license and the check in the tube, sending it on its merry way, hopefully to higher banking intelligence.

As expected, a TV monitor flashed on allowing me to view this attractive and intelligent-looking young lady. Firmly, she ordered me to produce yet another piece of identification.

With an award-winning smile, I slipped my duly-issued, wallet-sized osteopathic medical license into the holder. Down the tube it went. In a minute, whirring back through the tunnel, came the tube with my driver’s license, duly issued osteopathic medical license and . . . the money. Cheerily, the teller said her good-bye. Then she added, “Have a nice day.” From that moment on, I knew I would.

As I drove away, ID and money tucked safely in my wallet, yet another vision flashed through my mind. The message, unmistakably clear, expressed my future in a way I’d never seen before. I knew this bank had changed my life forever, sending me off in a whole new direction . . . It was time to go fishing.


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