I’m good at handling money in much the same way that Oscar Pistorius is good at handling guns. But at least nobody dies as a result of my negligence. Well, I probably will, but that’s my own damn fault.
I have only recently begun saving for a time when I will no longer be able to earn a living from writing, which, the way I feel at the moment, should be around Thursday. If I had to retire now – not that retiring is an option for people like me – and live for another ten years, my savings would provide me with an income of 2.7 cents a day. By the time I reach 60, and if I have been diligent about saving, this will have risen to around 19 cents a day.
I had heard good things about money market accounts – that banks will give you ridiculous amounts of interest, free holidays and even send around a manager-approved harlot should your balance be of a certain disposition.
However, none of these generous perks were on offer when I prodded my damp wad of cash across the counter. The cadaverous misanthrope sighed heavily and reached for the forms.
“Don’t look so sad,” I said. “It’ll grow in no time at all.” It sounded funny using that line outside the bedroom and I stifled a giggle. No, I didn’t. Real men don’t giggle. They guffaw. But it seemed the wrong moment for a full-throated guffaw. Besides, the security guard had his eye on me. Perhaps he was gay. Perhaps he thought I was looking at him because I was gay. It’s more likely, though, that he suspected me of being one of those weird-assed kleptos who make off with the bank’s pen when they think nobody’s looking. That’s right, mister wannabe cop. I have a tiny pair of bolt cutters secreted upon my person. The moment your attention is distracted by someone who walks in wearing a crash helmet and cradling what appears to be an AK-47 beneath his overcoat, I shall slice through the chain, grab the pen and make a break for the door.
I don’t check my balance every month because if I want to get depressed I’ll go to a bookshop. I made an exception the other day, though, and was intrigued to see that a couple of unauthorised deductions had been made. By intrigued I mean I drank heavily and kicked a hole in the bedroom door.
Not even I can take money out of that account without giving the bank a sworn affidavit, a DNA sample and my first born. The only people with that kind of power had to be working on the inside. Armed with my miniature bolt cutters, I returned to the scene of the crime.
A receptionist with a latex face told me to take a seat on the couch while I watched the cadaverous misanthrope repeatedly explain a very basic banking procedure to a client whose family should be jailed for allowing her out on her own. The couch was deceptively comfortable. I felt the fight drain from me. I thought of curling up and going to sleep. By the time the slack-jawed mouthbreather in tracksuit pants shuffled off, I had almost forgotten what I was there for.
“I want to know who stole my money,” I said. The theft was described on my statement as a “unit reduction” and a “switch out”. The consultant did what all consultants do when confronted with an angry customer. He reached for a gun. No, he didn’t. He reached for the telephone, got someone else on the line and passed the buck.
I took the receiver. Her name was Palesa and I was clearly not her first of the day. It was almost as if she were reading from a script ha ha ha. I understood very little of what she was saying. From what I could make out, though, Stanlib had siphoned off a section of my savings because a posse of reckless renegades had run African Bank into the ground.
“I don’t care,” I shouted. “Where’s my money?” She remained calm and embarked upon the official explanation. She said I had been exposed to African Bank and that when they went belly-up, share points had plummeted, money markets were impacted and side pockets were created. She might as well have been speaking Mandarin.
“So the money is in my side pocket?” I gave myself a quick pat. Nothing, apart from a condom that had been there since 1984. My money is apparently in the bank’s side pocket. “But you haven’t lost it,” Palesa said brightly.
“So I can access it?” Er, no. Apparently it’s a bit like Schrödinger’s cash. It exists and yet doesn’t. It’s mine, but not.
It was late on a cold winter’s night when Stanlib met African Bank on the frigid fringes of the fiscal market, where only the rats run, and flashed a bag of cash that wasn’t theirs to start with. African Bank fondled its assets and smirked.
“Hey, babe. You wanna invest? C’mon. Give it to me. You know you want to.”
“But, sir, this is other people’s money. I really shouldn’t.”
“Trust me. I’m an African bank.”
“Okay. But you must promise to call me in the morning.”
Lumbering to my feet and yanking his pen off its chain, I demanded to know why the bank hadn’t notified me before ransacking my account. “Everything happened very fast and we had to move quickly to protect our clients”. Oh, I see. Why didn’t you say so?
The next time I see a man in a good suit walking down the road, I’ll hit him with a bag of rocks and grab his briefcase. “I’m doing this to protect you,” I will shout over my shoulder as I run off down the road. I might even expose myself to him.
Should I never get my money back, there are two gentlemen I’d like to have a word with. One is Leon Kirkinis. Founder and CEO of African Bank, he made around R40-million in ten years before cutting his losses and quitting. He appears to own a sea-facing mansion in Rooi Els worth around R50-million.
The other person is Tami Sokutu. A man who apparently wouldn’t know risk if it came up and bit him on the arse, his position at the bank for twelve years was chief risk officer. He milked this toxic cash cow of more than R50-million in share options and another R35-million in salary and bonuses.
Asked by a local hack if he felt sorry for the millions of mainly rural people who were drowning in debt thanks to the bank’s reckless lending, Sokutu reportedly said, “Fuck them.”
African Bank was South Africa’s biggest microlender. Sokutu, I’d venture, is South Africa’s biggest douchebag. In a letter published by a Sunday paper last week, Sokutu apologised. “I shouldn’t have agreed to the interview in my state at the time.” This is code for “tired and emotional”. Which, in turn, is code for – well, to use a rugby term – off his face at the breakdown.
On its website, the bank says, “Applying for credit with African Bank has never been easier. Complete the form below to check what credit you could qualify for in just three easy steps.” What? That’s insane. It takes me more than three steps to get out of bed in the morning.
“When you walk into one of our branches, you can walk out with credit on the same day.” Listen, you morons. This is what caused all the trouble in the first place. Stop it. Right now.