In early March, I received a letter from my bank informing me of an impending "Conversion Date" on May 4. As a Religious Studies professor, I read on eagerly wondering what aspects of my body or soul might change this May. I learned that assets -- even the simple dollars in one's checking account -- can, like people, be converted. We have long been accustomed to exchanging money: passing one currency under a glass window and receiving another or, more recently, using an ATM card to extract the local currency in a foreign country. Converting money is a more provocative idea.
I have already undergone many changes with my financial institution. I signed up for Solomon Smith Barney, I believe, in the late 1990s. After a break, during which I signed up for a local credit union, I returned to a Smith Barney that was now a subdivision of Citibank. In this incarnation, my first ATM outlet was in a McDonalds and caused me to wonder if, in fact, Smith Barney was really a financial arm of the fast food chain. Soon enough, Citibank was everywhere, even bankrolling my mid-2000s mortgage after an excruciating question process in which a bank account separate from my husband's made me highly suspicious (I wondered if they could share a bank account with a human beatbox). After the Crash, Citibank unloaded Smith Barney and my bank became MorganStanleySmithBarney. Technically, I could still use Citibank ATMS without a surcharge, but only until September, when I traded the neon lit corner horizon of blue and red for blue and white. But these changes are mere prelude to the Conversion Date when all will melt into one pulsating whole called Chase.
Where the Conversation Date imagery evokes Paul blinded by God on the road to Damascus, the assuring Chase promise sounds Darwinian: "Soon, you will experience another important step in the evolution of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney." Maybe the point of the Conversion is to unify the poles of religion and science in the realm of global finance. Or maybe it just means, "MorganStanleySmithBarney ("MSSB") will assume responsibility for the ... services currently provided by Citigroup Global Markets Inc. ("CGMI"). Then why the language of conversion, why the sense of an irrevocable shift that will forever alter the future?
Let me suggest that we are in a process of conversion that is worth dramatizing before it is complete. We are increasingly transformed into commodities traded by ever-larger corporations. Our assets are held by just a few behemoth banks locked in an eternal war with one another. Our social connections belong to Facebook and Twitter. Our talents and embarrassments are YouTube's, which, as the video site of Google, already has the scoop on our preferences and desires. In all cases, we have become manifest as numbers on a screen: how many dollars, how many friends, how many followers (as if the era of personal Gospel has really arrived), how many clicks. With so much energy invested in maintaining and increasing these numbers, we have become their embodiment or, at least, their protector. So, I think that the language of conversion is appropriate: Come May 4, Chase will define a significant part of me.
Or not. I've been frantically realigning my numbers, opening a savings account with a credit union, opening a checking account with a local bank complete with a nearby branch filled with people I enjoy talking to, wrestling with how to disentangle retirement investments. As a public employee, I want out of the Conversion, lately all I witness are my public institution's numbers go down as banks' numbers go up. I want to buck the trend, although this may be the kind of conversion that it is impossible to resist.