An Ethical Lesson Best Learned Early

It’s that time of year again; classes are in session.  As a sophomore, I’ve completed some required courses and, as such, am taking a class or two outside of the typical Wharton core, one of them being Corporate Responsibility and Ethics. While I had decided to enroll in this course last spring, it holds more significance for me now because of a personal experience that occurred over the summer. In fact, this situation made it impossible for me to neglect business ethics in the future.

As a high school student, I remember hearing about scams and other traps that many people fall in to, most notably with student loan and credit card interest rates, and thinking that I would never make such a mistake as to be neglectful of the fine print.

One year after I started college, however, that’s exactly what happened. Having recently turned 18, I finally opened my own bank account, in which I kept a small amount of funds just in case I needed quick access. I had another one under my parents’ names for major expenses. Two months after opening the new account, I was slightly neglectful and, with one transaction, overdrafted by a small amount.

The bank slapped me with a fine that was seven times that small amount.

Several bank representatives, including the branch manager, told me that this is the bank’s standard policy, but that statement makes the situation even more shocking to me. How can a bank fine its customers, who have been loyal for more than seven years, seven times the amount of the transgression and feel guilt-free about it?

While I do believe that companies must fine to ensure that customers act responsibly, it is only ethical to do so moderately. I would have accepted a fine two times the overdrafted amount. But to fine seven times the overdraft amount seems to me a policy of profit maximization with no concern for the customers’ well-being. All from a bank that boasts of its customer service and accessibility.

I took my business elsewhere.

My current bank took the time to explain all its policies before I opened my account, unlike my previous one. Its policies are also much more reasonable. As a new major, I really appreciate that. With schoolwork, club activities and part-time work, things can slip my mind. It’s reassuring to know that my bank values having me as customer and wants to keep me pleased.

While painful, this summer’s experience has taught me to be very much aware of the small details and to never think that I’m safe from traps. I’ve learned to take more caution with regard to my finances. Hopefully, this is a lesson best learned early that will help me have a smooth, solid financial future.

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