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The golden peso

I visited my parents the other day and was rushing to catch an appointment at UP when my father called out, his voice in obvious distress.

I went back into his house and found him holding two checks, both uncompleted. It turned out he was trying to write a check for P266,600 and had made mistakes, making the checks invalid.

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This had happened before and I reassured him that it would be simple enough. I wrote out the date, the payee, and “two hundred thousand,” but paused almost immediately as I realized I had blundered as well. And I could not correct it because the central bank now does not allow any alteration, even if cross-signed, on a check.

Sheepishly, I asked my father for a new check, which made him even more distraught. For months now, since the central bank became very strict about the way checks are written, he has had to redo many checks.

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It’s more than tricky amounts like 266,600. At one time, a bank returned his check because he had connected the zeros on an amount, P3000, and the connections made it unclear, making it look like “3555.”

It seems that check-writing has become precarious for older people because of poor vision, unsteady hands, and the brain playing tricks—what we kindly call “senior moments.”

I tried to calm my father by saying, “Don’t worry. It’s happening even to me, and I’m young.”

As people live longer, you’ll find more elderly with often sizable savings and pensions, comprising the “golden peso”—more spending power, and more money on hand. They’re using the banks but are tempted sometimes to go back to the old reliable way of keeping money under the mattress. Meanwhile, the challenges are passed on as well to their sons and daughters who are also now senior citizens, trying to help their senior-senior-citizen parents.

Really now, who would have thought 266,600 would be so difficult to write out? I told my 10-year-old son, who is being home-schooled, that I would have a math and penmanship surprise for him very soon. I called a geriatrician-friend to tell her I had a new exercise for her memory clinic patients.

‘Dugo-dugo’ gangs

I know that all these rules are to control the epidemic of financial fraud, with criminals out to get easy prey: senior citizens. The “dugo-dugo” gangs are a case in point. They gather a bit of information about a potential victim by chatting with domestic helpers or security guards.  They also stake out routines, and the day comes when they can wait in a parking lot to catch Lola just as she’s entering or leaving a bank: “Lola, kumusta na po si Baby?” (Baby being her daughter living in the United States).

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Lola is startled, but is delighted to meet someone who “knows” Baby. Half an hour later, the con artists would have convinced her to withdraw her savings to invest in some business of which Baby would approve.

That story is based on an event that actually happened to a friend of mine, whose grandmother went into depression for several weeks after she handed over P300,000 to strangers.

Banks have been warned to be on the lookout for senior citizens trying to withdraw unusual amounts of money, but they often fail to protect their elderly clients. The problem is that as they try harder, they come up with almost ridiculous measures.

I recently got a call from a friend trying to encash a check I had made out to him, “pay to cash.”  He said the bank wouldn’t encash it unless I cleared it with a call center agent, who was waiting on the line. The agent asked me how much I had issued the check for, then went on to ask for my birthday, for the number of accounts I had with the bank, and the amount of the last check I issued before this “pay to cash” one.

I stopped the call center agent before he could ask the next question: “Hijo (trying to sound like someone in his 80s), I know you have to do this as part of your job, but can you tell the bank I’m protesting this whole procedure?  I’m beginning to wonder if you’re legitimate, with all these questions, and really, with senior citizens it’s unfair to ask all these questions. And calling at this time is difficult, (now trying to sound like a younger CEO). I’m in the middle of an important meeting.”

The poor agent apologized, admitting that he gets scolded all the time by the people he calls for check confirmation.

Senior-friendly

If banks truly want to protect their elderly clients, they should work out a whole system that considers senior citizens’ needs, and capabilities. ATMs may have to shift to biometrics because passwords are threatening (even to younger people, who do get senior moments). There are physical-access issues getting to the ATM and to the bank itself. Plus the checks and other financial transactions …

I like banks that have special lines for senior citizens, but it would be even better if security guards are alert to elderly clients (including those who don’t look too senior like myself, ahem) and usher them to tellers or other bank staff trained to interact with older people.

Banks need to review all their procedures—from those crazy voluminous forms that need a hundred signatures at a time to the issuance of checks—to make them more senior-friendly.

The golden peso can be sizable and banks can help with investing the money wisely and safely, although I have to say, again, that sometimes banks can seem like predators themselves, trying to push some products that come close to the modus operandi of “dugo-dugo” gangs.

Let’s all hope that with a senior-citizen president-elect, the government will act as well to help out. It should crack down as well on legal con artists who can be found in the malls, ambushing senior citizens to try and buy their supplements, cookware, massage gadgets, etc. Imagine Lolo strapped into a massage chair, a supplement with aphrodisiac claims being crammed down his throat.

I’ve been ambushed several times, and the marketing agents end up with a sermon from me: “I know this is your job, but…” At one time I was offered a massager/vibrator, and I retorted in Filipino: “Hoy, I’m not that old yet” and something vague about preferring the real thing.

I also can’t stand those sales agents assigned in supermarkets and in drugstores, again targeting the elderly to sample and buy their products. Calling, Mercury Drug store: Sometimes Lolos and Lolas feel trapped inside your stores because of the narrow aisles and the hard-sell sales agents.

If people are living longer, they’re also getting healthier… and smarter. The golden peso is there, and a more empowered senior citizenry just might revolt, boycotting establishments that use hard-sell or senior-unfriendly practices.

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TAGS: banks, dugo-dugo gangs, golden peso, purchasing power, Senior citizens
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