Rohit's Realm

// / archive / 2008 / 09 / 27 / rip-wamu

September 27, 2008


With so much going on in the past two weeks in the worlds of politics and finance, what with capitalism coming to a grinding halt and super-geriatric McCain single-handedly swooping in to rescue us from a cohort of spendthrift, earmarking incompetents who fundamentally do not understand the economy (whoops, did I jump the gun on Monday morning's headline on Fox News?), the consummate news junkie in me has been quite remiss to have been stuck in callback interviews all day, thus cut off from both my computer and my CrackBerry™. The last I ventured into this mess was November of 2007, when I argued that at least some responsibility for the meltdown must remain with those at the bottom of the pyramid of lies that took on loans larger than they could afford. The events of the last two weeks confirm that the banks deserve much more of the blame for enabling those liars and fools.

While there is much to discuss this week between the first presidential debate last night, the ongoing negotiations (subscription required) in Washington, DC over the Administration's proposed $700 billion bailout,1 and the sad death of legendary actor Paul Newman, I would like to focus on a death of another kind this week, that of my beloved bank of nearly ten years, Washington Mutual.

Now, for someone as markedly unsentimental as me, lament over the failure of a corporate entity—in fact, the biggest banking failure in US history—seems rather disingenuous. (And perhaps it is; as you all know, disingenuity has never been lacking on the Realm.) Yet, in other ways, it is hardly any more or less so than lament over a person I never knew or met.

WaMu, as it was affectionately know amongst its myriad subscribers, was my first foray into adulthood. It was where I deposited my first paycheck, way back at the nescient age of sixteen; it was where I opened my first checking account;2 and it remained a rock solid constant in an otherwise transient life that has spanned four cities of residence in as many years,3 and countless short-term stints in many others. The same could hardly be said about any person in my life outside my family.

More than just that, however, it was an institution with which I was associated that caused me little grief. Unlike the horrible fights with the likes of AT&T or Comcast before it, WaMu never caused me any problems—not once. My checking account balance was free to rise and fall as did my fortunes, and never once were there any stupid service fees. Why should one pay to store one's money interest free, right?

Well, it seems that most other retail banks (are there any other kind these days?) do not share that eminently logical sentiment, and especially not JP Morgan Chase, the company that picked up WaMu's customer deposits last week. It seems that even their free checking product has a monthly $6 fee unless one has direct deposit or engages in five debit card transactions per month. Six dollars a month so that you can hold and use my money and pay me no interest? Are you kidding me? Rot in hell, assholes.

More significantly, I have had issues with this bank in the past. I have a credit card with them, and despite setting up e-mail alerts to tell me two days before my credit card payment is due (I am strictly online statements at this point), it never comes through. Suspiciously, the late alerts do work. When I remember the deadline, that is fine; when I do not, I end up paying a worthless late fee. Whether this is gross technical incompetence on the part of Chase, or a sinister attempt to extract fees, I could not tell you. But what I do know is that it sucks. A lot.

Surveying the other national banks (e.g., BofA, Citibank), it seems that none have a true free checking account. Moreover, with my future plans in flux, it is difficult to pick a bank that is not well-represented in all markets I may end up in. A perfect example is Wells Fargo. It seems to have a decent checking account product, and is strong in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but has virtually no presence in Chicago (where I am now) or New York (where I may be in the future). Smaller Chicago banks are useless for a similar reason.

I suppose I never realized how good I had it with WaMu until its untimely demise last week. With Chase indicating that the integration might occur as early as six months, I am actively in the market for a new bank. I will not be held hostage over debit card transactions and I definitely will not pay monthly service fees. Any thoughts on where I might find a decent free checking account would be much appreciated.

^ 1 With the bailout negotiations continuing over the weekend, I reserve comment for another day on how we might reconcile helping the banks while ignoring the so-called homeowners. For all I know, such a reconciliation may not be possible. Time will tell.
^ 2 As an aside, I still have the original set of checks I got from opening my bank account in 2001. They have my Unit One address. Deutsch Hall foreva!
^ 3 For those wondering, those cities are: Berkeley, Calif., San Francisco, Calif., Chicago, Ill., and New York, N.Y.


I have a Citibank checking account and as far as I can tell they have never charged me a fee. Then again, I do not pay careful attention to the numbers.

A WaMu branch opened for business last week near my workplace. I bet the owner of that branch is kicking himself now that he has to change over to the new system and redo all of his signs.

They'd better not take away my 5% APY savings account!

On the bright side, this may mean that I'll never hear anyone use Washington Mutual's insufferable "WaMu" moniker ever again.

I've been thinking about going with Chuck for checking.

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