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An Open Letter to Bill Downe, CEO of the Bank of Montreal

Mr Downe, you are a liar.

I say so because your tellers regularly lie to your customers, any time your customers deposit a cheque. I assume that they do so in compliance with your bank's policies. As you are ultimately in charge of those policies, I hold you responsible. I refer to BMo's policy regarding holding cheques for a number of days after they are deposited to allow them to "clear." Your tellers tell your customers that the money they just deposited in their accounts will be available to them in four days. The money is actually not available for twice that long or more. Your bank's dishonesty lies in the way that you count those "four days," which is very different from the way a normal person would count them.
As an example, let us say that a customer deposited a cheque into her chequing account on a Monday. First of all, unless she asked, the teller would let her assume that it would be available immediately. However, if the customer knew enough to ask, the teller would tell her that the hold would be four days. Unless she had dealt with BMo cheque depositing before and knew enough to keep demanding that the teller confirm that her assumptions are correct until she got a straight answer, the teller would allow her to assume that the money she had just deposited would be available on Thursday. The customer would assume that the rest of Monday was the first day of the hold, Tuesday was the second day, Wednesday was the third day and Thursday was the fourth day, so the money would be released some time on Thursday. This would be a reasonable, rational assumption to make. However, it is not at all the way in which your bank counts those four days.

  • The cheque was deposited on a Monday. BMo holds Monday as the day of deposit; essentially, day zero!

  • Tuesday is the first full day after the cheque was deposited, so BMo holds Tuesday to be Day One Of The Hold. (This is one day since the cheque was deposited.)

  • Wednesday is the second full day after the cheque was deposited, so BMo holds Wednesday to be Day Two Of The Hold. (two days)

  • Thursday is the third full day after the cheque was deposited, so BMo holds Thursday to be Day Three Of The Hold. (three days)

  • Friday is the fourth full day after the cheque was deposited, so BMo holds Friday to be Day Four Of The Hold. (four days)

  • Saturday is the fifth day after the cheque was deposited, so a customer would naturally assume that the money she deposited on Monday would be available on Saturday. What the teller still didn't tell her is that BMo's policy is to only count "business days," (ie. Monday through Friday.) BMo would never release funds on a Saturday because Saturday is not a "business day," it's a weekend day. (five days)

  • Sunday, likewise, is not a "business day," it is a weekend day, too. BMo would therefore never release funds on a Sunday. (six days)

  • The next "business day" would therefore be the following Monday and that is the day that the customer's money would finally be made available to her. (Seven Days!)

  • And this charitable count of days allows that a bank -- whose net profits for 2014 totalled four billion four hundred and fifty three million dollars -- was in need of charity. A less forgiving customer would probably count the day of deposit, too because her money was not available immediately. (EIGHT DAYS!)


...eight days waiting for a four day hold to expire! This is a good deal less than honest, Mr Downe. But it could be even less honest. Let's say that your customer tried to get ahead of the game and deposit her cheque on a Saturday. Well, that would be cheating, wouldn't it? And we mustn't cheat!


  • ...so there's a little sign in your teller's windows on Saturdays which says that transactions made on that day would be posted to the next business day. So BMo would not even acknowledge to your books that they had received the customer's cheque, not on a Saturday! (one day)

  • Likewise, (again), Sunday is not a "business day" either, it is a weekend day, so the hold would not have begun, nor would the cheque be acknowledged. (two days)

  • BMo would not "deposit" the cheque to the customer's account until Monday, so Monday would be "day zero," the "day of the deposit." (three days)

  • Tuesday would therefore be the first day of the hold. (four days)

  • Wednesday would be the second day of the hold, (five days)

  • Thursday would be the thrid day of the hold. (six days)

  • And Friday would be the fourth day of the hold. (seven days)

  • Then, the next Saturday would not count because, again, it is not a "business day." (eight days)

  • Likewise, the Sunday following would not count as a "business day." (nine days)

  • The customer would not be allowed to make use of the money which her cheque represented until the following Monday. (TEN DAYS!)


...and all of this assumes that no problem is found with the cheque, no i left undotted or t found uncrossed, to allow BMo to reject the cheque! Should that happen, if the customer was lucky, she would be allowed to come back into the branch to pay a fine for retrieving the cheque so that she could return it to whoever gave it to her and ask that it be replaced. If she were not so lucky, she would have to wait five to ten business days for the bad cheque to arrive in the mail before she could get it replaced. Then she would have to come into her branch once more to deposit the corrected cheque and go through the same week to ten day long "four day hold" yet again!


Last Thursday, Mr Downe, I received a long-overdue cheque from an insurance company. It wasn't a huge settlement, just $180; a dust speck in the pages of BMo's four-and-a-half billion dollar books. I deposited it in my chequing account the same day. I asked the teller if the money was available. She replied that the deposit went through. That's not what I asked. So I asked her again, when would the funds I'd just deposited be available. Again, she told me that the cheque had been accepted, that the deposit had been made; again, not what I asked! So I asked her a third time, directly this time, was there any hold on the deposit? I pointed out to her that the last time I deposited a cheque, it had been held for several days and doing so seemed to be BMo's policy. She then finally admited that there was a four day hold. I wasn't satisfied, of course. I asked her if the funds would be available on Monday. I counted the days off on my fingers; Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. That's when she explained that it was four business days; Saturday and Sunday didn't count. So I counted the four days for her again, skipping the weekend... Friday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... and asked her if the money would be available to me on Wednesday. Thursday, she corrected. "So four equals seven," I said, (my charitable day-counting aimed at the poor teller rather than her employer.) Then I thanked her and left. You might guess that I was a little upset.

So in fact Mr Downe, the "four day hold" that you place on all cheques which customers deposit in their accounts actually lasts for at least a week, (eight days if you count the day the cheque was deposited), and can last as long as ten days. But your tellers are required to insist that it's only four days and resist revealing that there's any hold in the first place. I don't blame your tellers, sir, they're only doing what they're told to do. No, Mr Downe, I blame you! It's your bank, it's your policy and it's your lie!

Frankly, Mr Downe, I don't understand why there should need to be any hold on any cheques at any bank. As little as five years ago, you didn't put a hold on my paycheques every week, unless I deposited them in an Automated Teller Machine instead of through a human teller. Back in the early 1980s, I switched to BMo because you would let me deposit my paycheques through your ATMs and RBC would not. There was no hold put on them back then. Interbank and intrabank computing and communication has never been more sophisticated than it is today. A teller should merely need to enter any amounts in a cheque which are not machine readable, visually scan the signature and let her station read the rest. The cheque's validity should be confirmed in a matter of seconds! (For cheques deposited at ATMs, tellers in cublicle farms should be able to get the same thing done over-night.) Yet you put a "four day hold" on my deposit which will last for seven days; why? What Earthly purpose does it serve? And why do you make your tellers lie about how long it will actually last? How does BMo benefit from making their customers even more frustrated and angry?

If your goal is to put an end to paper cheques, you'll need to replace them with something that customers who aren't businesses can exchange between themselves! And you'll have to persuade huge, multinational corporations like insurance companies, (some nearly as big as banks), to give their customers alternatives, too.

With due regards,
-- A.D. Burrows
Tags: bank of montreal cheques deposit hold li
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