I received in the post this week a handwritten note “from the desk of Mary-Rose’s Sensible Side.” Mary-Rose’s Sensible Side has her own logo, above her name, which is a sketch of a human brain with a gold-embossed halo on top. I stared at that logo for some minutes but still couldn’t quite work out what it meant. “Hello again,” Mary-Rose’s Sensible Side wrote. She’d been doing a pretty good job of managing my finances, she said, but her “austerity measures” had meant I’d had to “go without.” Mary-Rose’s Sensible Side had “hunted down a great offer” that would allow me to “treat” myself. It was a new credit card.
On closer inspection, I realised the note wasn’t handwritten; they’d used a cursive font on ribbed notepaper so it looked that way. It took me a few minutes more to understand that the note was from my bank because in the mess that is my writer’s desk, it had become unmoored from the bank’s formal offer letter which I later located. It didn’t matter. My Sensible Side had “already given it a once-over,” she said, and in short I could enjoy “some retail therapy – within limits of course.”
It occurred to me that other people may have received one of these notes, although not from Mary-Rose’s Sensible Side, I hope, more likely from their own, unless everyone who banks with my bank got a letter from my Sensible Side, which is something we shouldn’t dwell upon because if I’m representing anyone’s sensible side when it comes to financial decision-making, they are in serious trouble. At any rate, I should have known that this note couldn’t have come from me, because I don’t actually have a sensible side when it comes to money. My “impulsive side,” which the note says shouldn’t miss out, is my only side. I get money and I spend it. Sometimes I spend more than I get, and so I stop spending and give the bank money for a while .
I’ve read the note many times now. It’s the kind of marketing we’ve come to expect from the most dumbly wicked marketers that plays with our need to be deserving in order to indulge ourselves. I don’t know why I was surprised that my bank would use this kind of subterfuge. For decades now it hasn’t been the marble-floored, paper-smelling atrium I visited in the city with my mother to open my first account, or the friendly teller I saw each week who took my cents and told me to watch my savings grow. It hasn’t even been the bank manager father of a friend who helped me buy my first car. It’s been an enormous corporation that makes money by charging me interest on my new credit card.
I decided I should get the credit card anyway, as my Sensible Side suggested, because then I could buy the trip to Canada I need to finish the novel, along with that lovely pen I saw last weekend and the little oak desk and writerly chair. I can’t buy these things on my existing credit card because it’s full. And when the bill for the new credit card comes, I might write to the bank “from the desk of the Bank’s Sensible Side” and suggest they’ve been working hard for their shareholders these past years, they’ve made millions out of little writers and others, and they deserve a treat, so why don’t they indulge themselves, get all those good feelings you get from helping others, and cancel my debt?
And while they’re at it, why don’t they sprinkle their remaining branches with staff? And instead of making all those elderly folk learn to use a pin number from this month, why don’t they reassign the revolving door of personal bankers they’ve given me to the job of helping the elderly continue to bank the way they always have? Now, wouldn’t the bank feel good? Wouldn’t that stop their “impulsive side from missing out?”
Yes, I think I’ll write that note to the bank, sitting at my oak desk, using my new pen. And then they can feel as good as I do. You've got to love this world we live in.