Strange human behavior: When all that's left is the bank vault

Reader David Campbell sends along a fascinating story about human habits and attention. Safe to say, no econ would make this mistake.

Several years ago, Campbell consulted on a highway widening project in Atlanta. To make room for the new lanes, a bank branch had to be demolished.

Approximately 90 days prior to the demolition of the branch location, all the customers who banked at that location were notified in writing as to what would be occurring and were advised as to the location of a nearby branch that would be handling their accounts. Several large notices were also posted at the branch containing the same information. Follow-up written notices were also sent to the customers 60 days and 30 days prior to the closing. All the branch officers and tellers were constantly reminding people of the upcoming event.

Finally the day of closing arrived. The last customer left the bank, the doors were locked and a large sign at the entrance to the parking lot clearly stated that fact. The next day the wrecking crew moved in and began the demolition. Case Closed? WRONG!

Roughly 45 days after the closing I received a call from the officer of the bank I had been working with. I could almost see the tears in his eyes, he was laughing so hard when he said, “David, I know you aren’t going to believe me, but I promise that I’m not making this up.”

Apparently, about ten days after the bank was demolished and all the bank signs and other identification had been removed from the site, the bank started receiving a trickle of calls from its customers complaining that something was wrong with their accounts. As time moved on the situation worsened, but it wasn’t until someone actually went out to the site that now contained a non-existent building was the problem solved.

The only thing that remained on the site was the bank vault. The vault had been duly cleaned out at the time of closing, but the structure itself could not be removed by conventional means and required that it be jack hammered apart. The rear wall of the vault also housed the drop box for the night depository. Although the depository was checked and cleaned out at the time of closing, it never occurred to anyone to seal the depository slot. For approximately 45 days the carefully trained employees of nearby businesses had been doing as instructed and were dropping the day’s cash receipts into the night depository.

The building was gone. The bank signs were gone. Most of the parking lot was gone. The sidewalks and drive-thru lines were gone. To make a deposit required that a person park his car and walk about 30 feet over a dirt path. When the bank official opened the night depository box, he found over $250,000 in cash. Fortunately it never occurred to the local bank robbers that people could be that dumb. The bank vault door had been removed in the demolition as had all the bank security systems, and the night depository inside the vault could be opened with a crow bar.

Campbell asks fellow Nudge readers: Can anyone top this story?


  • Sunil Arora

    absolutely hilarious and kind of unbelievable but the… To make it more riveting , attach a picture of the site after the demolition of the bank

  • gasburner

    250 k$ over 45 days works out to about 5.5 k$ per day deposited. There could not have been very many businesses sticking their cash in the slot. I imagine there are few businesses taking in less than 1 k$ daily on average, so there were maybe half a dozen people that did not clue in to what had happened. How many businesses does a bank branch serve? A few hundred? If so about 1% of the depositors missed the boat. A 99% success rate isn’t *that* bad.

  • Dan

    What evidence do we have that this actually happened? So far it sounds like one guy told you it’s true.