An overdrawn billionaire is an oxymoron . . . or so you would think.
Less than two years ago I opened the my mailbox and found a notice from one of my banks informing me of an “insufficient funds” (NSF) fee charge of $35. The notice stated a $40 item was presented to my account and was marked as “unpaid and returned.” The $35 “unavailable funds fee” was deducted.
I forgot to switch an automatic payment to another bank account in the prior month. Certainly a pain-in-tuchus to receive the notice and being hit with the fee.
But lo and behold it showed my available balance as $9.9 billion ($9,854,241,363.69), to be exact. If you earned 1% annually in a savings account. then you would earned close to $100 million per year, or a little more than $8 million per month or a little less than $300,000 per day.
Saudi Money? Rich Fan?
It couldn’t possibly be true unless some Saudi Prince made a deposit or a mystery admirer bequeathed their cash assets. So I gathered myself together, gabbed a beer, to figure out what I would do with such an amount. I called the local branch but they said they would relay the information to the branch manager. I did not hear back and assumed they thought I was joking.
In my fantasy trip I dreamed of buying an NFL team as the Carolina Panthers were available at the time for a little more than $2 billion. Then a Lamborghini to replace my Kia Optima, a Leopard 50 sailing catamaran as I lived near one of the best harbors in the U.S. Gulfstream G650 private jet, a waterfront Florida mansion, a huge farm or ranch with mountains, etc.
I then called the bank and their response was they would relay the information to the branch manager. I did not hear back and assumed they thought I was joking.
A few hours later I placed a call to a reporter I have known for years and consider a friend, and who wrote feature stories regarding my family, business and myself for the New York Times and American Banker. She now works at the New York Post. She laughed hysterically because of all the people in the world this could possibly happen too, it was me. It was nationally known I actively opposed the abuses of “NSF” or “Unavailable” banking account fees such as stacking fees by paying the largest items first and by assessing fees for items presented less than the fee itself.
She had to run it by her editors for clearance and presumably everyone was amused.
However, many twists to my experience developed I have not previously shared, in deference to my bank.
The next day I went to my monthly SCORE meeting. SCORE is a non-profit organization and an arm of Small Business Administration (SBA). I worked as a certified mentor, helping small businesses succeed and in some cases helping them to apply and qualify for loans. (It was formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives.) The main service members perform is free consultations and advice to entrepreneurs.
At the meeting the branch manager where I had $9.9 billion in my account showed up to discuss possible ways her bank could support the local SCORE chapter.
I did not expect her to attend, although I had repeatedly asked her to come and learn about SCORE. Perhaps exploring ways we could work together, as indeed her bank is a designated SBA lender. Her bank, also my bank, offered other loans for tiny businesses. Besides other local banks were already working with us too.
After she made a presentation, I told her I needed to discuss something very funny. After the meeting concluded I explained to her about the $9.9 billion in my account at her bank, (fully one-third of bank’s total assets.) She had no clue what I was talking about. I said I would send a copy of the document over for her to review and also informed her it was very likely the news media would be contacting her bank for comment. She looked perplexed and brushed it off as a minor error.
About an hour later, the New York Post reporter contacted me and confirmed they would run the story the next day. It hit the media like a firestorm along the east coast, running on front pages. The news paper in the town where I grew up in ran it front page, above the fold on the left side. NBC TV showed up, shot an interview for the 11pm news and promoted it heavily in prime time.
All the reporters contacted the bank and they all received the same reply “no comment.”
Nevertheless, I became a local celerity, called the “Punta Gorda Billionaire.” I was already well known because of my Panama hat. I received no less than a dozen marriage proposals walking down the street. When word spread I was a widower women of all ages came up to me at the grocery store.
In addition I started receiving emails and letters from people claiming to be relatives. Most were legit but a few didn’t add up. A grade school classmate contacted me through Facebook to remind me he once loaned me $20. Church members ask my 83 year old mother if she was aware of my sudden massive wealth. She told them please let him know not to forget about her.
At the local post office the staff announced the local millionaire had arrived. I quickly reminded the staff millionaires are a dime a dozen in Florida, multimillionaires maybe a quarter and centi-millionaires maybe $20 a dozen, but a multibillionaire, not just a billionaire, well there only a few dozen in the world. Plus, I was noted in the Celebrity Net Worth magazine.
Because I was on TV news often until 2009, I was accustomed to being stopped at least once at airports by someone saying they seen me before or someone in the banking world who wanted to chat me up. This has happened several times since I “retired” in 2009. But the attention this produced I had never witnessed.
After a few days of celebrity fun I had a scheduled morning coffee meeting at the local Chamber of Commerce with the Chairman of My local SCORE chapter to discuss organizing a social party for the departing “snow bird” member mentors. I brought a copy of the local paper with the front page story on my billionaire status. He acknowledged everyone heard about or watched it.
Then he told me someone from the bank called the chairman of a neighboring chapter, someone I never met. My chairman said the bank told the neighboring chapter chairman the bank was reconsidering its $5,000 commitment to the SCORE chapter. My local chairman said not to worry about but it was strange. But he wasn’t sure how it could impact the bank’s proposed relationship with the local chapter.
I reminded him there was no reference to SCORE in any of the “billionaire” news articles.
Frankly, I was deeply offended if my fellow SCORE mentors would be impacted by a funny news story the bank created. From a public relations standpoint this would be a disaster for the bank, as I had followup interviews later.
After a few more days, the EVP of the Bank’s retail department sent me a letter stating the document showing the $9.9 billion was a “formatting error” and “incorrectly aligned,” and “rectified.”
I responded with additional questions as to why it showed the exact amount and if other customers receive similar notices. I also asked if they would refund the $35 “unavailable funds” fee, explaining how it happened.
His written response states he investigated the matter, there was no negative damage to my account status and the fee was justified and would not be refunded. I never requested a refund just a better explanation as to how this exact figure was shown on the bank notice.
I then extended an offer to assist them in handling media matters as well as creating a more customer-sensitive relationship. I reminded him I have been paid as much as $15,000 per day for helping financial institutions improve their respective products, but would be willing to help his bank at a much lower fee, or just for expenses, if they agreed to contribute to all the SCORE chapters in the counties where they conduct business in Florida. Additionally, I would volunteer, without pay or expense reimbursement” to oversee the distribution and proper use of such funds by each SCORE chapter.
SCORE is funded by the SBA, but local businesses provide additional support by advertising in the Chapter’s newsletter, participating in and picking up the costs of various benefits such as job fairs, shark tank contests, meeting rooms with food for local business seminars.
His response was essentially we’ll put your name in a “our rolodex” if we need your help. I felt a sense of arrogance which unfortunately is pervasive in many top banking executives, based on my experience.
What is ironic is I know this bank had retail banking issues based on my association with them for nearly 15 years. For example, they once put a two-day hold on a $200 cash deposit I made at a local branch. i can think of at least three other examples of their poor customer service I experienced.
Spending the Wad
Back to fun part – what the heck would you I do with just shy of $10 billion in my bank account?
Beyond the self indulgences I would divvy it out to my family to retire their mortgages, covering tuition for grandchildren, and help other family and friends launch the businesses they always dreamed of developing.
Then you wake up and the question changes from what would you do with $9.9 billion by WHY would you do what you dreamed about.
Rather than focusing on yourself, how many lives could you really impact. I’m not talking abut passing out $100 bills to strangers or paying off Walmart layaways, I’m talking about what can do beyond one moment of generosity today, impacting others for years or generations to come.
This is one reason I established a KIVA team called “Friends of Cardworthy.” Non-profit KIVA dispenses micro loans to low-income entrepreneurs and students in 77 countries. For as little as $25 anyone can participate and it’s a loan, not a donation.
I am in the concept stages of developing a KIVA-like process for micro-lending to low-income U.S.-based entrepreneurs. My Robear’s List project would utilize fintech and other emerging payment processes to not only make micro loans but also develop, and hopefully patent, a system to build localized brand loyalty, leveling the playing field with major chain competitors. Additionally, adding a process to automatically fund tiny local charities through local merchant revenues. I built a website this year, teasing my concept.
With $9 billion I would fund Professor CardWorthy financial education globally with programs at the grade school level, as part of the high school curriculum as well as post-graduation level, whether high school, trade school or college.
Nevertheless with your help this is all possible even without a $9 billion windfall.
If I can generate enough funding to keep Professor Cardworthy alive, continuing to develop plans to expand financial education and unlock fintech for local communities via Robear’s List — it is all for the “Greater Good.”
I would love to hear your ideas on what you would do with $9,854,241,363.69 in your bank account tomorrow.
One more quick billionaire story —
This past Thanskgiving I went shopping for a turkey at the grocery store – they were dirt cheap and plentiful. I planned to cook and debone a whole turkey but wanted a tender one. While shuffling through the frozen turkeys I asked two other women shoppers if it would be more tender to buy two ten pounders or one 20 pound turkey. They asked how many people was I feeding. I answered just myself and I was a widower.
In less than two minutes at least a dozen female shoppers were offering me advice, invitations and even personal cooking lessons. Then suddenly another female shopper said hey there’s the “Punta Gorda Billionaire.”
Need I say more.
I was surrounded as some apparently thought I really was an unencumbered billionaire. I was finally able to escape with two nice ten pounders and head back to my rented condo (at least it’s waterfront) in my Kia Optima (now called my Kia Lambo).
I smile often thinking about the day I was a multibillionaire, especially when someone waves or honks at the “Punta Gorda Billionaire.” But I will never shop for a big turkey and disclose i’m a widower.
P.S. The rumor billionaires don’t have to buy their own lattes and get free biscotti is a total myth.
Punta Gorda Man Becomes One of the Richest in the World (NBC2 Transcript)
Wealth Fades Quickly for a Sudden Punta Gorda Billionaire; NFL Team Ownership Dreams Crash (Fort Myers News-Press)
Bank Error Temporarily Turns Retiree Into Multi-Billionaire (Celebrity Net Worth)