Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
I’m in charge of banking gone bad. Just kidding! Sort of. As vice president of operations and security, I have a great staff that deals with the day-to-day handling of deposit exception items, fraud, purchasing, mail, etc. Direct customer contact for me is rare unless there’s a problem. So if the bank has been robbed, or a customer has been the unfortunate victim of fraud, or the building catches fire, I’m your girl.
Describe a typical day for you.
Every day is different, but incoming emails usually set the tone for my day. Our company uses some very effective fraud detection systems. My staff sifts through the exceptions, but as we research those, patterns develop or links between other accounts, and the next thing you know we are in a full-blown investigation: contacting customers, assisting with police reports and trying to protect our customer and our bank from loss. When fraud is not demanding immediate attention, I work on business continuity and security projects, documentation or process improvement issues.
How has technology changed your job?
That’s a dangerous question. I’ve worked for Boone County National Bank for 41 years, so I’ve seen the evolution from noting a customer withdrawal in pencil on paper trial balances and then the fraud detection occurring when the charge back clerk, the file clerk and the insufficient check clerk overhear one another’s conversations to the complete computerization and the high-tech fraud detection software I mentioned previously. My favorite banking innovation, however, was bulk filing. I can’t tell you how much I disliked filing checks back in 1974. But I will tell you that once while I was filing checks on our customers’ accounts, I saw a check signed by “U R STUCK,” an alias often used by the infamous Frank Abagnale (reference to the movie about his life, Catch Me If You Can).
What is the most shocking thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
I don’t shock easily, but in 41 years there has occasionally been a situation or an investigation that I know is going to drastically change the life of someone. Sometimes you know things that you would just rather not.
Funny depends on whom it is happening to, so here is one on me that I have permission from the customer to tell. I don’t come across to most as the stern, authoritative type that my position as security officer sometimes requires. Years ago (before my hair turned silver), I was summoned to the Motor Bank to deal with a man taking photographs of our facility without permission. As I stepped through the entrance of the branch, I was putting on my best you-better-take-me-seriously face to deal with the photographer and looking to see how many customers were present in the lobby. I saw the impatient photographer, and from the corner of my eye, I saw the customer and good friend who lightens everyone’s day, Sherman Brown. I said a very professional, “Good morning, Mr. Brown,” hoping he would take the hint. But no, Sherman promptly picked me up off of my feet, swung me around and exclaimed, “Darling, you know me better than that!” Once my feet were firmly replanted on the floor, I straightened my clothing, wiped the smile from my face and headed toward the photographer.
I’ve never been in a robbery, but I get the call and head to the branch immediately. It feels like my heart stops beating until we know that everyone is OK. I see the fear and anxiety in the faces of the staff when I get there. Robbing banks is not a lucrative business anymore. There is very little cash kept in the bank, and what is there is not easily accessible. I don’t know why these people put our employees at risk and face federal charges for a minimal take.
I think trying to wake up a very young woman early one morning who had fallen asleep on a sofa in our Fountain Lobby. She had asked staff nearby to call a particular taxi for her and then fell asleep. When I couldn’t wake her, we called 911, and I opened her change purse to see if I could find her identification. A lipstick and a roll of $20s were found but no identification. Emergency medical staff arrived and roused her. She really was sound asleep. Her taxi was called, and she went outside to wait. I watched and noticed as she sat there on the edge of the fountain that she was still nodding off into a deep sleep. I finally went and sat with her until the taxi came. Falling asleep on our sofa was one thing, but falling in our fountain would be an entirely different emergency. I think what alarmed me the most about this situation was how young this beautiful girl was and how telling the contents of her change purse was. I was very sad for her. Another Fountain Lobby incident: I was summoned to deal with a person who was reportedly “bathing” in the fountain. We approached her to see why she was in the fountain; she informed us that she was just cooling off. She was firmly planted and up to her chin in water, splashing lightly and enjoying the day. We told her it was dangerous. Could she not see the pipes and conduit? Reasoning was not working, so we told her she had to get out of the fountain. That was when she informed us that she was waiting on someone who had gone inside the bank to conduct some business. “Sure you are,” we thought. We eventually convinced her to get out and sit on the side of the fountain to wait for the other party. But as soon as we started to walk away, she was right back in the fountain. Finally, we threatened to call the police and told her she needed to leave the premises. We escorted her to Eighth and Broadway and moved away so we could discreetly keep an eye on things. Much to our surprise, a very normal-looking individual came out of the bank, looked around for her, located her, and they walked down Broadway together.
The saddest and or happiest?
We serve customers from every economic and cultural background that you could imagine. Regardless of their background, however, they are all potential victims of fraud. I could fill several pages with stories:
The explanations of why they are sending the money are also similar:
Nothing is worse than losing your money and your soul mate all at the same time.
How often do you come home with crazy stories to tell?
Unfortunately, I usually can’t tell my stories. Confidentiality is critical and a legal requirement. It is essential to both protect the customer and or an investigation when law enforcement has become involved. But in time I am comfortable using some carefully selected scenarios or sharing a background story to educate and or entertain.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love the variety of work and situations I deal with but most of all the people whom I meet. I especially like working with customers and also with law enforcement and emergency management agencies in the city and county. Working for Boone County National Bank has given me some amazing opportunities. Who would have guessed in 2007, Boone County National Bank’s 150 anniversary, that administrating the bank’s security program would include working with a team to develop the safety and security plan for the party the bank was about to throw? The first Roots N Blues and BBQ Festival was our gift to the community. The festival stands on its own now, but I feel fortunate to have had that opportunity given to me by the bank.
What are most people shocked to find out about what you do?
My mother worked for the Harrisburg School District for more than 25 years. As soon as they let school out for bad weather, she would call me at work to tell me I needed to start home because the roads were getting bad. She knew I wouldn’t but felt the need to call. She was also shocked when she learned that I occasionally had to respond in the middle of the night to fire alarms or burglar alarms. She just didn’t think a woman should be driving on bad roads at any time of the day and shouldn’t be out alone after dark. I would say people are not as shocked to find out what I do as much as finding out that I am a woman doing some of the things I do.
What are your top tips for working with difficult customers?
Listening. I often get very angry customers passed on to me. I find that is all that most people want — to be heard. I try to listen from the customer’s point of view and not be defensive. I also listen closely to be sure that the bank has not made a mistake. I spoke to one customer one day who had been recently released from a few months of incarceration. While incarcerated, his wife spent most of his money and decided to leave him. The state had taken some, too, to pay for his stay in the penitentiary. He was blaming the bank for all of his problems and the money he had lost control of. But I listened for more than an hour, and do you know what he was the most upset about? His cat. The wife had taken the cat, too, and he was really missing that cat. By the time the conversation was over, he thanked me and in talking had come to realize that the bank was not at fault, and he knew there was nothing I could do about the cat. I don’t know how to fix everything, but I usually know who does, and if it can’t be fixed, I will try to find out w