By Roy Urrico
Ah April 1, aka April Fools’ Day, not a date to let one’s guard down. On a day that produced a reported record spaghetti crop in 1957 in Switzerland, a rookie pitching phenom in 1985 who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour, and countless calls to zoos asking for Miss Ellie Fant, the financial world has had its share of pranks.
Historians have linked April Fools’ Day to many cultures and countries including festivals in ancient Rome; to the vernal equinox, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather; and Scotland’s two-day event (oh, no!) highlighted by “hunting the gowk,” (a word for cuckoo bird) in which people were sent on phony errands and Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s backsides, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.
More recently, people went to great lengths to generate elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Besides the BBC showing footage of people harvesting pasta from trees; and Sports Illustrated writer George Plimpton’s made-up article about Sidd Finch; there is the 1996 Taco Bell announcement that it purchased Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell; and 1998’s Left-Handed Whopper, advertised by Burger King.
Bank-Themed April Fool's Day Hoaxes
The banking community has not been immune from April Fools’ pranks. With help from the San Diego, Calif-based Museum of Hoaxes (yes, it does exist) here are some banking themed hoaxes.
Sweating Silver Vault (1896). Hundreds of people gathered outside the New York Sub-Treasury vault, attracted by a rumor that the vault was sweating because of the warm weather, causing the silver contained inside it to ooze through the marble walls. Specks of mica were pointed out in the walls to prove the theory. [New York Times, Apr 2, 1896.]
Prank Robbery (1952). In Stellenbosch, South Africa, four masked men entered a bank, pointed water pistols at personnel, and stated, "This is a holdup. Hand over the cash." After the frightened teller did as told, the men threw the cash back, yelled "April Fool" and escaped.
Bogus Bank Robbery (1963). A 14-year-old Connecticut schoolchild walked into a bank during lunch and handed the teller a napkin with a demand for money written on it. The teller handed him $600. The boy began to leave the bank, then turned around and handed the money back. Police later arrested him and sent him to a New Haven juvenile detention center.
Money Growing Tree (1963).VIEW magazine published an article talking about the existence of a Yenom Tree, a ”rare perennial” owned by Mrs. Loo Flirpa of Appleton, Wis. The tree was purportedly intensively bred and apparently sprouted bright, green American one-dollar bills with uniformly high serial numbers. Due to an unusual mutation that year, the article reported that the tree had sprouted a “flawless five-dollar bill.” It was also revealed that Loo Flirpa (later revealed April fool backwards) was going to sell the tree’s seedlings to the U.S. Mint via the Federal Reserve System.
Bank Teller Fees (1999). The Savings Bank of Rockville, a small, Connecticut-based bank, placed an ad in the Journal-Inquirer announcing that from that point forward it would be charging a $5 fee to customers who visited a live teller. The ad, which appeared on March 31, claimed that the fee was necessary in order to provide, "professional, caring and superior customer service." Although the ad was a joke, many customers did not perceive it as such, with one woman reportedly closing her account at the bank as a result. The bank ran a second ad later revealing that the initial ad was a joke.
Zebra Savings Account (1999). The London Sunday Telegraph described an astonishing new savings account that guaranteed to pay the best rate available on the market at all times. The account — offered by the Hungarian bank Loof Lirpa, through its British subsidiary Lirpa UK — was called ZEBRA, short for Zero Energy Best Rate Account. The financial institution was supposedly able to offer such a compelling rate because it used "a complicated mix of investment vehicles, including futures, options, swaps and pixies." Thousands of people called the Sunday Telegraph seeking more information about this "trouble-free maximum-paying, no-risk investment.
Downloadable Money (2001). Abbey National, a British bank, revealed an April Fools’ Day joke that never came to fruition. It planned to offer its customers the ability to download and print money from their home computer. An Abbey National employee said, "We were going to say that it would suit all those couch potatoes who don't want to go to the bank to get their money out. We would make available a system where you could download money from your personal computer and print it out on paper at home." However, the Bank of England, citing concerns about encouraging forgery, strongly advised Abbey National not to proceed with their joke.
Scratch’n'Sniff Credit Cards (2005). Virgin Money of Australia publicized the introduction of barbecue-scented scratch'n'sniff credit cards that were to embody the spirit of Australia, reminding owners of a freshly barbequed snag (sausage). Virgin Money said it expected the card to be particularly popular amongst Aussies travelling overseas who are seeking something to remind them of home.
I’m Here to Take Money (2006). A 57-year-old woman stopped at a Wells Fargo Bank in Brainerd, Mass. After completing her transaction, as a joke she handed the teller a note that read, "I'm here to take money." The teller called the police and told them the bank was being robbed. By the time the police arrived, the woman had left, but they later picked her up and charged her with disorderly conduct.
Chip and Sing Cards (2006). The London Times reported that "Britain's banks are developing a system of credit card security that uses the voice's tonal range. Rather than needing to recall a PIN, you will need to remember a line of a song...Optical scans are too fallible, and standard voice recognition too easy to mimic electronically. But no two people sing the same way. Tills and cash dispensers are to have microphones."
Bankers Greedy Gene (2011).CityWire reported that a scientific study identified a gene prevalent among bankers, which restricts the production of a neurotransmitter required for social cooperation. The AFL11 gene – also known as “the gene that caused the credit crunch” – makes carriers unable to empathize with fellow humans.
Finn O’Potamus tells a non-banking story that took place last year about the San Antonio (Texas) Zoo’s Timothy the hippo, otherwise known as Fiona's biggest admirer, a fellow hippo who spends her time 1,100 miles away at the Cincinnati (Ohio) Zoo.
Timothy is known for writing Fiona love letters on the San Antonio Zoo's Facebook page and sending her gifts on her birthday and Valentine's Day. In 2021, Timothy shared some "big news" with Fiona on the San Antonio Zoo's Facebook page about a new roommate, "You may remember a couple of years ago that a hippo from Memphis Zoo named Winnie shot me a DM and we became friends."
In the post, he said Winnie is moving to San Antonio to live with Timothy and the Texas hippo’s grandma. "I hope this doesn't make things hippo-awkward for any of us!" the Facebook post said. This triggered some ferocious remarks from Fiona’s social media followers until the San Antonio Zoo passed along a note from Timothy: "Happy April Fool’s Day! Sincerely-Timothy. P.S. I’m in trouble from grandma for this one!"
Happy April Fools’ Day from Finopotamus.