Friday, August 13, 2010

Short Note about "Best Bank in the World"

I am sitting in air-conditioned comfort on Alberta Street, Portland OR, on a heat-advisory day. It is supposed to get up into the 90's!!! Given that lots of people are sans air-conditioning, that can actually be cause for concern. Anyway, this place is not only cool, but blasting out AC onto a little open courtyard area. The bank offers the following: free lectures about credit and other banking concerns (one just finished), free cookies, free soft drinks, several computers for free browsing (30 minute limit requested), and chirpy employees. One young guy just finished his time, wheeled his bike outside (yes he brought it inside with him), and pedaled off down the street. They also have a physical bulletin board where people can post notices, and also tout an online board for the same. Oh yeah and there is background music. They also have a project going called "build your block challenge," whereby people can submit proposals for neighborhood improvement projects and hope to gain up to $10,000. It seems a bit heartening to see a bank offering amenities when so many are just ripping you off and being surly while at it. On the other hand, all is not utopia, I surmise. Across the street there is a quaint victorian house sporting signs saying "Boycott Umpqua Bank...logging Old Growth since 1953," and other slogans. The building is the home of an outfit called "In Defense of Animals: Protecting the rights, welfare, and habits of animals."

I asked the young lady who was leading sessions about the signs. Her explanation was that the bank was founded in southern Oregon where logging is the prominent industry, and one director owns a logging company. She was quick to assert that this one person does not make the decisions for the bank. I asked about the organization with the protest posters, and she said they are a local PETA headquarters.

While I was keying in this, another session started. It is for beginning account holders, mostly early 20-somethings. First question, "When you put your money in the bank, where does it go?" She answered briefly and then led the group on a tour of the facility. They were surprisingly attentive, and more than happy to take the goodie bags handed out which contained checkbooks and other logo promotional items.

So what does this have with technology and/or librarianship? Well, the free computers for anyone to use is huge to me. I just sent off an article about the lack of free computer access for kids hit by the economic digital divide. While I was typing one teen left and another arrived on HIS bike and sat down at the computer next to me. What's not to like about free computer use, free cookies, and cool drinks plus AC on a hot day for a kid in this mixed neighborhood?

Finally what is my take on all this? Well, I have to say I see more to like than dislike. Sure the bank may have some issues with the logging industry, but it is local to Oregon and the money stays here. Banks are banks and I do have a certain level of suspicion about motives in view of our current economic woes and the role of big banks and businesses. However, they are trying to be accomodating and informative, not to mention offering the perks previously mentioned. What if EVERY bank offered 2-3 computers for free surfing, especially in neighborhoods where there are lots of people with limited/no access? If I lived in Oregon, I would probably bank here.

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