Breaking Up with My Bank

Last week I closed my Bank of America checking account and transferred it to The Golden 1 Credit Union. The week before, I transferred my safe deposit box from BofA to First Northern Bank. As soon as I can claim my last “reward,” I’ll stop using my BofA Visa card.


It didn’t give me any joy to do this. I’ve been a Bank of America customer for 36 years, ever since my parents set me up with my first checking account right out of high school in 1976. That was when Bank of America was headquartered in San Francisco and the teller was the wife of our family dentist and my classmate’s mother.


In some ways, ending my relationship with Bank of America feels like a divorce. We drifted apart. BofA’s corporate values aren’t my community values. When the pretty young manager asked me why I was closing my account, I told her I couldn’t bank with an organization so mired in the foreclosure scandals and that continually adds and increases fees. She responded, “Oh, personal reasons.”


Personal reasons. When you get too-big-to-fail, I guess you don’t see your customers’ values as your own any more.


Just like a divorce, there were uncomfortable moments to our break-up.


I stood a good 15 minutes before a teller ushered me into the bank vault to retrieve my safe deposit box items, then another wait for a manager to officially sign me out. The discomfort will be worth the $52 I save annually by having the same size box at First Northern.


After shifting my automatic payments and direct deposit to the Golden 1, BofA hit me with a new $12 fee. When I called to ask what this was for, Ariel from the call center told me, “A decision has been made to charge Californians without direct deposit or a balance of $1,500 a $12 monthly maintenance fee. If you haven’t gotten that notice, it should come in the mail soon. If you can’t do that, then, with a direct deposit of only $250, you can get a checking account for only $8.95 a month.”


“I’ve been a customer of BofA for 36 years. I don’t want to pay this $12 fee,” I stated emphatically.


“We can give you a one-time courtesy reprieve on that fee. Hold on while I check with my manager.” Just like in divorce, asking clearly and directly gets you what you want.


I wonder how many millions of dollars this too-big-to-fail bank reaps from folks like me who hesitate to go through the hassle of a bank break-up? Fortunately, on the other side of my break-up are local bankers offering me free checking. Silly me for being loyal for so long,


The final act of closing my 36-year checking account was the hardest. The day before, a teller and I had had a nice chit-chat when I came in to pay my Visa bill. She smiled in recognition as I approached, then tightened as I asked her to close my account.


Such a pleasant woman; too bad she works for a company that has lost its way, and with it, reliable, longtime customers like me.


This article was published in the Davis Enterprise:  http://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/opinion-columns/breaking-up-with-my-bank/

Judith MacBrine dba The Mirror Group © Copyright 2012

Dear Debt Super Committee: Be a High Performance Team, Please!

Dear Members of the Debt Super Committee:


Thank you for agreeing to be a member of the Debt Super Committee.  I am a small business owner very concerned about the impact of this committee on our economy, our politics and the confidence of our nation.  As a political leader, I will not ask you to set aside politics as a member of the Debt Super Committee.  You represent a voice of our system that wants and needs to be heard.


I do ask you to “do politics” differently between now and November 23rd when the debt-reduction plan is due.  Rather than polarize and tear each other and the country down, please develop yourselves into a high-performance team.


To create a high-performing team, three characteristics need to be present:  a high ratio of positive-to-negative interactions, a balance of inquiry and advocacy, and a balance of focus on self with focus on “the other.”


Ratios for the Three High-Performance Dimensions

Inquiry/Advocacy            Positivity/Negativity             Other/Self

High-performance teams                    1.143                              5.614                             .935

Medium-performance teams                 .667                              1.855                             .622

Low-performance teams                       .052                               .363                              .034


(See “The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams:  A Nonlinear Dynamics Model” by Marcial Losada, Meta Learning and Emily Heaphy, University of Michigan Business School.)


The ground work for high-performance teams is high ratios of positive-to-negative interactions.  Currently the US Congress is dominated by negative interactions.  Many can be identified as one of four toxic communication behaviors that kill relationships and team performance (see the work of John M. Gottman, PhD.):

  • Blame – A complaint about a specific action that attacks the person’s character or personality, e.g., “What’s wrong with you?”  “Can’t you understand that…?”
  • Defensiveness – Turning the blame and criticism away, often back at the original criticizer, the situation or someone else.  This escalates the conflict.
  • Stonewalling – Cutting off communication, the silent treatment, refusal to engage, withdrawal, being reluctant to express directly what you are thinking.
  • Contempt – Sarcasm, belittling, cynicism, name-calling, hostile humor, belligerence.  Contempt is the most poisonous form of toxic communication because it conveys disgust and condescension.  It has been found to be harmful to physical health.

Low-performance teams are characterized as having a low ratio of positive-to-negative interactions and a predominance of focus on self and advocacy.  Because of the highly negative environment, these teams are unable to be creative and innovative.  We, the US taxpayer, cannot afford for you, the other members of the Debt Super Committee, and later the US Congress and President, to be a low-performance team.

We will know that you are “doing politics” differently when we see you display the characteristics of a high-performance team (which are fast-acting and contagious):

  • A cessation of toxic communication behaviors.
  • An increase in positive interactions.
  • Inquiry into the positions and concerns of “the other.”
  • Advocacy for the positions and concerns of “the other.”

You have a large and historic task in front of you.  Much of the rhetoric surrounding you is cynical and expects you to be partisan and to fail.  Right now, as indicated by US public opinion polls and by the volatility of the stock markets, you come to the task already judged as a low-performing team.


Prove us wrong!

Originally signed,
Judith B. MacBrine, Owner
The Mirror Group


Addressed and mailed to each member of the Debt Super Committee:

  • Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas (Republican and committee co-chair)
  • Sen. Patty Murray of Washington (Democrat and committee co-chair)
  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland (Democrat)
  • Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona (Republican)
  • Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts (Democrat)
  • Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania (Republican)
  • Sen. Max Baucus of Montana (Democrat)
  • Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio (Republican)
  • Rep. Xavier Becerra of California (Democrat)
  • Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan (Republican)
  • Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina (Democrat)
  • Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan (Republican)

Small Business Bankrolls Big Business

President Barack Obama

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500


Dear President Obama:


In your address to Congress on September 8, 2011, you said:


“My administration can and will take some steps to improve our competitiveness on our own.  For example, if you’re a small business owner who has a contract with the federal government, we’re going to make sure you get paid a lot faster than you do now.”


I just want to let you know what a good job your administration is already doing in paying small business.  I am a sole proprietor in business since 2009 working collaborating with other sole proprietors.  I began a multiyear contract in 2011 with NASA to conduct training for their managers, supervisors and influence leaders.  My first and second invoices for work done against this contract were paid in eight and ten working days, respectively, from the date I dropped the invoices in the mailbox. Those funds went directly into my account with my local bank, First Northern Bank of Dixon.  I then made payment to my colleague and subcontractor in Greeley, Colorado, whose husband has been looking for work for 19 months and to my other colleague and subcontractor in Novato, California.  These quick payments have stimulated, in their own way, three local communities.  So I want to acknowledge the great service of the NASA/Shared Services Center FMD Accounts Payable unit.


The real problem with contract payments to small business is with Fortune 1000 companies.  As reported in the Washington Monthly and The Colbert Report by Jeffrey Leonard, CEO of the Global Environment Fund, Corporate America has adopted a Net 60 -120 policy making it possible for it to defer payment to businesses for 60-150 days depending on the date of the invoice.  Please refer to the attached website:


This is during a time when big business has large cash reserves and small business and the people it supports are struggling.  Small business should not have to bankroll big business.


If it’s not already in your plan, please do something to get Corporate America to pay its bills on time.  Perhaps the federal government could decline to do business with businesses that don’t have a corporate policy of Net30 or better.  In my estimation, the federal government is a model in this area.  Now, more than ever, we need Corporate America to step up and do its part.


Thank you for considering this request and for being an example of how big business should reimburse small business.




Originally signed,


Judith B. MacBrine, Owner

The Mirror Group



NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Representative John Boehner

Representative Nancy Pelosi

Senator Harry Reid

Senator Mitch McConnell

Representative Cory Gardner

Representative Lynn Woolsey

Representative Mike Thompson

The Colbert Report

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