Bank Error in Your Favor

May 23rd, 2006

Jon ‘Wolf’ Rentzsch posted a fun essay about his need to “iron out” mistakes that are made in his financial favor. I’m delighted by the analysis – especially the deduction that such corrections are ethical exercises: small quizzes that keep your everyday moral compass in shape for the inevitably bigger challenges that are bound to come.

I relate to the compulsion to do the right thing. In many ways I also actively refuse to let the world make errors in my favor. I used to be almost as corrective as he is. But I’ve cured myself of that disability, to some extent. The problem is, I’m a super-worrier to begin with. This means that at every minute of every day I’m probably compulsively analyzing the actions I may or may not take and how they will affect the world around me. With the weight of the world on my shoulders, the last thing I need to worry about it convincing the clerk that he did in fact give me an extra $1 in my change. Staying ethically aligned is harder than simply giving up the unearned benefit. As Wolf observes, the world doesn’t really give a damn about your dedication to correctness.

Wolf’s friend gave him a mantra “I’m not going to hell for 35 cents.” A real beauty of a one-liner. But my interpretation is more along the lines of “I’m not giving a damn for 35 cents.” Bigger errors are liable to invoke my correction response. I also admit to applying different standards to different entities. For instance, I’m much more likely to give the 35 cents back if I’m at a small boutique business than if I’m at a chain supermarket. Part of this is the classic “they can afford it” argument, but more significantly, I’ve been ripped off many times by the supermarket, and I know it. I figure the law of averages will eventually make the errors in my favor catch up to the ones in theirs.

For all the times they forgot to put something in my bag, even though I paid for it. Or charged the usual price for something clearly marked as on sale. For this, I keep the 35 cents.

7 Responses to “Bank Error in Your Favor”

  1. Pork Chop Says:

    I don’t believe it’s truly your moral compass, if you’re worried about getting caught or whether other people care about your correctness or not.

    Integrity is doing the right thing, even if no one else will ever notice. That’s the whole point.

  2. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Pork Chop: Are you responding to something in my words that implied I felt otherwise? I’m just arguing that “the right thing” is not black & white, and that for minor infractions, it can be more harmful to fight for correction when the world would just as soon let the problem slide.

  3. Joshua Says:

    When shopping at Wal-mart, don’t give back extra change ;)

    When shopping at Apple, do return the extra change.

    Simple rules really!

    I agree with what you are saying.

  4. Joe Mullins Says:

    I’m with you on the “I’m not giving a damn for 35 cents”. At $7 an hour for an average checker, the company is paying almost .12 a minute for their time not counting federal taxes and other expenses. If the problem amounts to more than 3 minutes of their time between you explaining the situation, possibly doing the math for them, them re-ringing the transaction and issuing a correct receipt, they have lost money. The bigger the mistake, obviously, the more interested the company would be in having it corrected.

    I’ve often not corrected mistakes that were not in my favor at stores, mostly around not getting club card savings or something being mislabeled. A $3 mistake on a $50 grocery bill is simply not worth my time to explain to the checker, endure the wrath of other customers, yadda yadda.

    When we’re talking ethics, we are also talking about our perception of the greater good. Having a clear understanding of the greater good is often difficult. But from a business perspective, there is definitely a margin of error built into the system that tolerates these kind of errors, both ways, and correcting those errors often trigger inefficiencies that could cost the store more money in the long run.

    I personally don’t think that there are comfortable absolutes on which to make these decisions. Despite the ugly nature of it, ethics are largely situational. Deal.

  5. Joe Says:

    I used to be exactly like that too, if the cashier at the supermarket gives me more change than was neccessary, i’ll just keep quiet and keep it, whereas if it happened at a mom and pop store, I would give it back.

    But then I realised that at the end of each day, when each cashier changes shifts, they do a tally of the day’s earnings and if there’s a shortchange, who pays for the missing amount? Its the cashier, NOT the supermarket. So every extra dollar that I kept, was a dollar’s earnings less for the cashier.

    Now whenever I get any extra change, I return it. Regardless of its source.

  6. LKM Says:

    Yeah, Joe’s right. The cashier (who only earns a really small wage anyway) or waiter has to pay the missing amount. And since most people only complain when they don’t get enough, this may end up being an amount which really hurts somebody who – as I already said – doesn’t earn a lot to begin with.

    Besides, I have to quite frankly admit that it simple makes me feel good to give back money even if it had gone unnoticed otherwise, whereas keeping the money (even if it isn’t much) makes me feel like the jerk that I am.

  7. Luis Bruno Says:

    I figure the law of averages will eventually make the errors in my favor catch up to the ones in theirs.


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