August is the month we get to welcome new full-time voices to the post calvin! Please welcome Jordan Petersen Kamp, who is taking over Jenna Griffin’s spot. Jordan graduated in 2017. He majored in accounting and minored in history and now works as an auditor who spends a considerable amount of time travelling for work and complaining about the city planning of the east side of Michigan.
I spend a lot of time in banks because it is my job to do so. I work as an auditor in the financial institutions group at a mid-level public accounting firm, and our job is to give an opinion on the truthfulness of a bank’s financial statements. To do this, we go through various accounts and select samples to test in order to get “reasonable assurance” that the amounts are “fairly presented” or “materially accurate” or some other euphemism that allows us to tip-toe around guaranteeing, with absolute certainty, that the financial statements are correct.
Through this work I encounter people who spend a lot of time in banks whose jobs do not require them to do so. Many of our clients are small, regional banks that serve rural areas with three or four branches, and these branches see a lot of traffic from customers. The customers are not going to the bank because they lack other options—most of these banks do offer online and mobile banking that allow customers to check their balance, deposit checks, or initiate transactions from anywhere. But it does seem like they need to be there, like a trip to the bank is part of a larger routine-cum-ritual.
Listening to customers talk to tellers feels like eavesdropping on a confessional. It’s not that any dark secrets or sins are being disclosed, but people who go to the bank on a regular basis offer a lot of themselves when they are there. Every visit has a reason greater than the numbers on the check—like when a man animated his deposit with stories of the rental property he and his brother purchased from their father and fixed up for a source of passive income and something to do during retirement. A customer like this is placing more than just $200 in the bank. For him, the bank is not just a lending institution that accepts deposits from the public to create a system of credit or some other cold, dead Investopedia definition. Instead, the bank is more like a church—an institution with the capability and willingness to hold all the successes, failures and hard facts of a person’s life.
A bank with this level of tradition tied to it walks a hard balance. People like knowing what their money means, but they also like the idea that their money could mean more. The bank needs to have an appearance that presents commerce as steadfast yet attentive, unchanging but engaged. This paradoxical aesthetic most resembles the 1980s visually: turquoise carpet and beige walls keep bank lobbies as inoffensive as the adult contemporary radio station playing through the speakers. But amidst the faded pink sofas and cylindrical coffee tables in a lobby’s waiting area lies evidence of the present looking towards the future. Every bank branch I work in is guaranteed to have both TIME magazine and The Wall Street Journal at all times. Nobody so much as flips through the pages or talks about their content—in fact, it would probably be considered poor client engagement if I initiated conversation about climate change as explicitly as a TIME cover might. But both are always there to signal that the bank exists as part of a continuum of American thought and enterprise.
I have to wear a suit and tie when I work at banks like this. They are the only type of client that requires me to do so. I guess if the bank needs to be impenetrable in all visible ways, the people who test the bank need to be too. My job is to validate the institution that customers are using to validate themselves, so I get why a customer might need to believe I am serious and resolute in my work and not somebody who has the Wikipedia page for Pokémon open on another browser.
I have never had this type of relationship with my bank. The bank has always been a tool for me. It’s an app on my phone, and I don’t go there looking for myself. I want it to function well, just like any other tool I rely on, but I am fine if the bank is as impersonal as an Investopedia definition. I’m sure there are other places where I deposit my identity that have unread magazines and suits-and-ties telling convenient half-truths of their own. And I guess if I had the self-awareness to recognize them, I would try to let them know that they can pull down the facade. It’s ok.
And if the person who audits my bank is reading this—you can go ahead and read about Pokémon if you want. That’s okay too.
Jordan Petersen Kamp graduated in 2017. He works as the controller for Trellis, a certified Herman Miller furniture dealer located in West Michigan. In his spare time he enjoys talking about the books and albums he looks forward to reading and listening to someday—the ones that he’s definitely heard of but not heard or read yet.