a dark photo of a banker holding a bag of cash how to not get ripped off at a bankAmericans have special relationships with their money and their banks. Putting money into a bank account is an act of trust, and it's difficult to think of a checking or savings account as a business transaction because the money is still yours -- the bank is just holding it for you and keeping it safe.

People may think of banks as a sort of altruistic non-profit, but everyone knows that they're a business and that those big vaults and tellers cost money. You might even expect a little bit of an upsell when opening a checking account, although you don't expect it to be like walking onto a used car lot or buying shoes at the mall. A business transaction is taking place, but often very slowly through loans or small but steady fees.But before you walk into a bank, there are some things to be aware of first, as Dani Zabala, a former banker at a major retail bank, told WalletPop in an interview. The main thing to know is that when you're directed into someone's office or to someone's desk, that financial salesman can double their annual salary through commissions by getting you to use products that can get you to spend more money at the bank, said Zabala, whose website, Getbanksmart.com, explains bank services in easy-to-understand language.

"Things are deliberately staged toward a customer who has no predisposition to buy something, but they buy something anyway," said Zabala, who goes by his pen name on his blog.

Zabala, 25, worked in the Midwest at a major bank for three years before quitting a few months ago to start his website and try to help people learn how to save their money from banks. He started working as a teller but mostly worked as a primary sales officer who had bank customers funneled to his office so he could give his sales pitches. It was a job he didn't take lightly.

"The people who are expected to sell are selling very, very hard," he said.

Zabala said sales officers earn a base salary of $25,000 to $35,000 per year, and can double it through commissions. He earned $50,000 per year.

For most customers, whatever bank they have their checking account with is where they do their primary banking: home and auto loans, savings accounts, credit and debit cards, and college funds, he said. Banks lose money on checking accounts, so they try to direct customers to open other accounts to make money, he said.

Here are some of the commissions Zabala said he could earn for getting a customer into certain accounts:
  • $20 for opening a checking account.
  • $40 for a checking account with direct deposit.
  • $65 for a checking account with online access.
  • $100 to $150 for direct deposit into a savings account.
He'd typically make $2,000 to $3,000 in commission per month by opening 14 to 25 accounts. The commission on a loan varied, with a $500,000 loan bringing a $500 fee. The loan commissions were on a rolling scale, meaning the more loans he sold, the more money he made. "The idea is to keep you as hungry as possible," Zabala said.

Much of what he did was what he called "interruption-based marketing," where he would keep pushing customers even if they weren't interested in the financial services he was pushing from his prepared script.

Even after seeing a regular customer come into the bank again and again, even regarding them as a friend, he'd ignore their body language that they didn't want to hear his pitch and all they wanted was to open a savings account. "They really didn't want to be there or listen to what you had to say," Zabala said.

Before listening to a pitch from a financial salesman, Zabala details the gimmicks that they use on his blog. Here are some of them:
  1. Their proposal includes all benefits, and no costs. If the person speaking to you is only going on about the great teaser rate or the cash back bonus you'll get after signing on, you're hearing an incomplete story.
  2. You feel like you're in a timeshare presentation. If this is the case, that's probably because you are in a timeshare presentation, only no one is calling it that.
  3. You're not clear about fees and restrictions of use. Consumers make the mistake of not thinking clearly about how they're going to use a product, and how a fee structure would interfere with their intentions.
  4. You're not bombarded with all sorts of disclosures. In order to prevent abuse, organizations like the SEC and the FTC have required all sorts of disclosures be given to customers before they say yes. New laws passed concerning debit and credit cards make these requirements more strict. As a general rule, anytime you talk to anyone about any financial product, you ought to be getting some disclosure documentation as a result of the conversation.
The funny thing about those gimmicks is that they all sound like what you'd hear at a car dealership when trying to finance a car. There's no doubt that putting your money into a bank is a transaction, but it shouldn't have to feel like one.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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