One fine day in 2002, I got a letter from a customer’s accountant: “I’ve been going over my books, and I noticed that you never charged us for this $5,000.00 advance we received in 2001.“ I reviewed the situation, and eventually unearthed that we’d charged another person, who hadn’t apparently ever noticed. I fixed it.
A few months later, another person -- this time the owner of his business – called to tell me, “Hey, this payoff isn’t right. It’s too low. I owe you more than this.” Turned out several months ago we’d charged a different customer for an advance of $1,200 or so, that should’ve been to the businessman’s loan. I fixed that, too.
A week or so ago, I discovered that we’d been charging a business for late fees that weren’t specified in their note. The business really had been late, repeatedly, but we weren’t entitled to late charges unless they were outlined in the loan agreement – and they weren’t. I didn’t notice this because the customer complained, but because I happened to be looking at the loan, and noticed that it was an SBA note, which, until recently, didn’t allow late fees. I had my manager verify this particular note didn’t allow them, because the late fees accrued were over $1100. She agreed with me. “Get rid of them.”
I did. It wasn’t until then that I realized that the $1100 was only the late charges the business hadn’t paid yet. There were over $7500 in late fees we’d collected from this customer. So I let the bank’s executive vice president know before I fixed it (refunding late fees collected is complex), and he said: “You’re right -- if we’re not entitled to it, give it back. I approve.”
If you found $5,000 lying in a wallet in the street, would you find its rightful owner, or would you keep the money for yourself?
I know at least three companies that would give it back.
Because make no mistake: that’s what happened here. No one put these people up to it. No one “caught” them. No outside audit found the problem. No federal regulator said “You can’t do this.” The wronged parties, the ones who was paying for the mistake, hadn’t noticed and almost certainly wasn’t ever going to notice. If anyone of these people kept their mouth shut, or just didn’t want to take the time to check to see if everything was right, they’d’ve kept the money, free and clear, forever.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how well an honest company couldpossibly do, with the likes of Enron and Worldcom out there: I can’t speak for one of the companies, but I do know that it’s been a tough year for businesses all over, and it wouldn’t be fair to judge our performance against those when the economy was stronger.
But for the record: Toddler Bank had an AWESOME year by any standards, and that business owner that called to tell us he owed more money than we’d said? He told me yesterday, “You know how sometimes you’ll have a bad year, and you’ll think, ‘Next year will be better?’ Well, me, I just hope next year is as good as this one was. Business was fantastic!”
Nice guys finish last. Yeah, right.