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Source: Seer Press, 28 December 2010

My working life began as a bank clerk with an international bank in Georgetown, the capital and chief port of Guyana. The training I received there provided me with the organizational and methodical skills, business practices, and work ethics that served me well throughout my professional life.

Confidentiality and integrity were key traits in handling the financial affairs of our clients. Working daily with large sums of cash required an acute awareness that the money passing through my hands was not mine to covet or to gamble with. Dual-control, daily balancing of accounts, and regular internal and external audits curtailed petty theft and embezzlement.

At eighteen, I observed that money deposited by working people – many of them illiterate rice farmers from the countryside – funded the overdraft facilities and loans for individuals and businesses, large and small. Our loan managers assumed responsibility for minimizing risks by obtaining the necessary collateral.

Working in the Foreign Exchange Department, I was introduced to the bank’s role in international trade. I prepared bank drafts, bills negotiable, international money orders, letters of credit, and other related trade documents.

It became clear to me then that banks played an important role in the economic prosperity of our young independent nation. As a bank clerk, I was proud to contribute towards our country’s development.

In the naivety and innocence of my youth, I was unaware of the growing tentacles of international banks in amassing wealth and influence through indebtedness and investment products.

Today, banks are more complex institutions than they were in my youth. Credit cards and Internet banking are now an integral part of our lives. Banks have changed the way we live, run our businesses, and trade with other nations.

Some of these developments have not been good for us. To our demise, our banks have betrayed our trust by gambling with our savings and retirement funds – ignoring the risks to engorge their paychecks. Their lack of integrity and their covetousness resulted in the 2008 collapse of the American economy as well as nations worldwide.

Believing that our American banks were too big to fail, we put them back on their feet by sacrificing our future and the future of our children and grandchildren. Three years have passed since their crime against humanity, yet the CEOs and other top executives of these American banks remain unpunished; free to amass more wealth; free to create more havoc. They are the new Untouchables.

Holding our banks accountable is not enough. We, the people, must also do our part. We must stop thinking that our credit cards and home equity loans entitle us to all the money held by our banks. We must learn to live within our means. We must learn to set realistic and attainable goals.

The time has come to free ourselves from our addiction to easy money and think outside the banks.

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