smart spending

Scoop of Subprime Lime for every saver

Jay MacDonaldI get a little nervous walking into my bank these days.

You would, too, if you'd had not one but two seemingly sound financial institutions shot out from under you in the past 10 months.

If you haven't had the pleasure yet, a bank failure is similar to a Saturday afternoon double feature. First, the FDIC sweeps in like "Mission: Impossible" without the ropes and pulleys, scoops up all the cash and devours the contents of the staff refrigerator.

OK, maybe that was just my branch.

Then they replace your jovial neighborhood bankers with sourpuss replicants just like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" -- the cool version with Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams. Trust me, you'll find their gooey discarded pods in the Dumpster out back.

“Since my bank changed hands, I've met so many new tellers I feel like I'm speed dating.”

Since my bank changed hands, I've met so many new tellers I feel like I'm speed dating. They quite earnestly assure me that everything's fine, but I can tell by their eyes that it's not. It's like I'm always braced for their piercing, pod-born space screeching to begin.

You know what American banks really need to avoid all this drama? Strategic partners -- enterprises with a stable cash flow to offset the inherent volatility of the banking business.

And no, I can't believe I just said that.

Granted, that little banking flirtation with selling insurance in the lobby didn't fly. But that's because they had the wrong partners. Insurance? Puuh-leeease.

Here are five new bank hybrids that would help calm my nerves:

JPMorganBen&Jerry's

Can an elite New York private bank cozy up to a fuzzy-haired, tree-hugging Vermont ice cream maker?

Of course they can -- nothing bridges the economic spectrum quite like a double scoop of Cherry Garcia.

Just as the major bookstore chains Barnes & Noble and Borders overcame their innate fear of coffee stains to bond with Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee, JP would do well to loosen up that silk cravat and dish some scoops of Chubby Hubby with every deposit.

To help the cause, Ben & Jerry's could develop some catchy new flavors. Who's up for Recession Ripple? Housing Bubblegum? Subprime Lime gelato for the lactose intolerant?

Sure, it'd be a tad messy. But imagine the line at the drive-through!

Wachovia/USPS

Would it be crazy to combine a major bank with the U.S. Postal Service?

When you consider the advantages to the consumer, it makes scary sense:

  • Banks are secure. Post offices are secure.
  • Banks hold deposits. Post offices hold your mail.
  • Banks have lines. Post offices have lines.
  • Banks have friendly tellers. Post offices have lines.

Could you get used to a bank where, after waiting in line, you could mail your packages, buy stamps AND transact your banking business?

I could.

Capital One-Stop Cleaners

Here's another surefire synergy just waiting to happen: the bank-slash-dry-cleaners.

They share the same tellerlike interface, the same deposit-withdrawal raison d'etre and the same stressful shuffling of stuff while those in line mutter and moan.

Agreed, the bank might have to retrofit their glove-box-size drive-through window to accommodate coats, business suits and prom dresses. But one could easily use those cool pneumatic tubes for socks and undies.

Combine your bank and dry cleaner, and stand in one less line every week. Sweet!

Wells Fargo Kinkos

Please raise your hand if you understand why banks do not have copiers in their lobby. Do they think we're going to start running off reams of Benjamins? Come on, that's what home computing is for!

Wells Fargo Kinkos would change all that. When you needed to copy important documents before mailing, you could do so right at the bank without making a separate stop. You also could print computer files on the run, pick out a snarky birthday card for your BFF and design a banner for your schnauzer's bat mitzvah.

Personally, I'd bank at a brand that saves me a step and the carbon footprint that goes with it.

Bank of America, M.D.

Hello, President Barack Obama? With health care reform ramping up, here's a perfect opportunity to heal two stumbling dinosaurs with one enormous splint.

Health care is already deep into my pocket. Why not eliminate the middleman and simply graft it directly onto my bank?

I'm willing to bet the savings in paperwork alone would create sufficient millions with which to lure our best doctors back from India.

Oh sure, the health insurers will scream like a kid getting his first measles shot.

But I've got that covered.

AIG? Meet Ben & Jerry.

Veteran Bankrate contributing editor Jay MacDonald lives in Austin, Texas. If you have a comment or suggestion about this column, write to Bank Shots.

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