When I first opened a bank account, my parents — both former retail branch banking employees — kindly counseled me to “keep receipts” and “check your statement”. I suspect this was about ensuring my financial due diligence and making sure I didn’t become overdrawn, rather than any a concern that the bank would make mistakes.
But today we rely on computerized systems and we expect that people will do little or no record-keeping of their own. Online (“paperless”) statements, optional receipts for ATM withdrawals, and virtual invoices have become the norm.
For a certain generation (probably mine, and those older), this gives rise to a sense of something missing. It’s a bit like handing in a $10 bill in payment for something costing $9.99 and not receiving any change: It’s not necessarily the amount that bothers you, more the principle that you should expect something back, like a physical record of a transaction.
I work with the banking industry and could be laissez faire about receipts, but I must confess that I still request one every time I go to an ATM, and feel a little irked when the receipt facility is not working and I have to scribble the withdrawal amount, date, time and location on some other receipt in my wallet! Like my parents before me, I’m not really concerned that the bank will make a mistake in accounting for my transaction. The risk of “bank error” in a financial context is miniscule; if there were an error, the bank would undoubtedly rectify it immediately, despite what the popular media might lead us to believe. (The Monopoly board game had a card saying “Bank Error in Your Favor” — but even that hopeful circumstance will be short-lived, as virtual quadrillionaire Chris Reynolds learned.)
No, I keep receipts to help protect myself from fraud. There is a worrying trend for criminals to target the less-watchful consumers for fraud. They are the ones least likely to spot an anomaly early, if at all, and the longer a facility remains open and unchecked the greater an opportunity.
So I recommend people check what appears on their accounts, not necessarily by slavishly keeping receipts – that’s just a quirk of mine – but certainly by keeping track of authorized spending. This could include signing up for mobile phone/text alerts for certain spend types, or downloading and scrutinizing the monthly online statement. I think it’s a good idea for banks to reinforce this due diligence. As my colleague John Buzzard has noted, the customers who keep their receipts — and an eye on their books — can be the best defense against the criminals.