It’s a banker’s life

Just over 38 years ago I embarked upon a brief career as a German banker, which in the end lasted only two years; at the end of that period I moved back to Ireland and became a law student at a Dublin university. But during those two years I sat behind a bank counter and dealt with customers in relation to such matters as foreign exchange and small loans. My bank opened to the public every weekday morning at 8 am and closed at 5 pm; except on Thursdays, when we closed at 6.30 pm. Chiefly, this allowed customers in full time employment to use our branch services. We had the usual German public holidays, but every year after Christmas we opened the branch again on December 27 (unless this fell on a weekend).

That was 38 years ago. Last Friday (Christmas Eve) I had to visit my bank in Dublin, as I needed to make an international payment by way of a transfer of funds. Stupidly I didn’t look at my watch and arrived at 9.45 am, and so had to wait for 15 minutes for the bank’s normal opening time. Once inside, I was asked to complete a rather long form, which the lady at the counter stamped, and I was then told to join another line for – well, to be honest, I have no idea what for. When I got to the top of the queue, the very polite gentleman at the counter told me he would have to send the form to another office of the bank. However, because it was Christmas Eve, this couldn’t be done until after Christmas, meaning December 30, as the bank would be closed until then. He was very willing to apologise for this, and hoped my payment wasn’t urgent, but, as he disarmingly put it, ‘such is life’. Indeed it is, if you’re dealing with a bank.

The Irish banks’ concept of service was pretty amazing when I opened my first Irish bank account in 1974, and it is astounding now. Even in Britain banks are now much more customer-focused, opening at times convenient to the public and with fewer bureaucratic restrictions. In Ireland we have not reached such insights yet, and the convenience of the customer is neither here nor there. As we have seen recently, new charges are introduced to penalise account holders without any explanation in public, and banks remain closed at times and on days when customers most need them. This is no longer acceptable, and I don’t particularly care if this is all because of some long standing agreement with the trade unions.

I should emphasise that my experience of individual bank employees has almost always been very good – it is not a personal issue, and I have no complaints about the willingness of bank officials to help. But now that the taxpayer owns most of the banks, I hope the government forces through the necessary reforms before releasing them back into private ownership. It is high time.

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9 Comments on “It’s a banker’s life”

  1. Al Says:

    Banks should have been rendered from day one.
    Debt for equity, imposed on shareholders.
    But no, we took a massive blood donation from the present and future stock to give to it to rotting corpses.

  2. Andy Says:

    Perhaps it’s time to raise the pay of ordinary bank officials in return for longer hours – take it off the merchant bankers and managers who got us in this mess 😉

  3. jfryar Says:

    Here here! When I moved to England I was astonished to find that the banks did not close for lunch, and were open on Saturdays too.

    One thing I am constantly amazed by are the time delays inherent in most dealings I have with the bank despite all our computer and network systems. Surely bank transfers and international payments should now be virtually instantaneous and virtually free to the consumber but, in fact, all that seems to have happened is that the adopted systems have become too complicated for any one person to use.

    • Actually, the time delays in transfers are not inefficiency but a fee. If you make a ‘standard’ transfer internationally it takes 3 days after leaving your account to arrive at the destination. For those three days you are in effect giving a 3-day interest-free loan. That’s the economics behind it. If it’s urgent, you can pay a fee and it arrives with the beneficiary instantly.

  4. Hold on, hold on! I thought that the orthodox view was this couldn’t happen in a private company. Now you want it put to rights while in state ownership and then returned to private ownership!

    It has become common to forget that ” a Union agreement” is agreed with a management. This seldom means that management rolled over when faced with union power. It often signals gross incompetence.

    One reform that could be introduced in a state bank would be to tie income of the best paid employee to, say, three times the wage of the worst paid employee.

    • Well Colum, maybe and (I suspect) maybe not. Even in current circumstances I doubt you’d get a suitably qualified and experienced bank CEO for €75,000. Or if you could, you’d wonder about them.

      But in any case that has nothing to do with the banks’ customer service.

      • Colum McCaffery Says:

        Shane Ross said that when researching his book, he found not one single example of a bank employee being headhunted.

        Recently when AIB was under pressure over their intention to make bonus payments, they said that if these payments were not made, staff would leave. We shall see now!!

        High salaries aren’t determined by a market; they are fixed at levels to suit those who do the fixing. High salaries are a scam perpetrated by employees against their employers – i.e. shareholders and citizens. Downward pressure must begin somewhere.

        If there really is a requirement to recruit some rare specialist who demands an enormous salary, there are ways of doing that. (I understand that the US soccer league has such a mechanism to try to ensure that players’ wages do not ruin the clubs.) However, we are not talking about a rare bird but a huge flock of very ordinary birds who are being paid far too much money.

  5. joehas Says:

    “I needed to make an international payment by way of a transfer of funds.” And you had to go to branch for that?

    I made 4 of these from my desktop this morning looking out at the blueskys over Madrid.

    Between 1996 and 1998, I worked on the project to create Ireland s first online bank (it was one of the big two). I am in disbelief at how little it was developed since then.

    I asked the bank themselves about this. They say that various authorities (presumably the financial regulator, central bank) has prevented them from moving to true electronic and paperless banking.

    I’m not so sure about this. To me it looks as if the supernormal profits the banks have made in recent years where paid out in bonuses and perquisites (otherwise they would have been headhunted by Goldman Sachs, you understand)

    With much regret, I´ve since shut down all my Irish bank accounts. It was just too hard to manage my money. Plus they insisted on giving me things I didn’t want e.g Paper statements to my parents house and couldn’t give me things I wanted such as statements in PDF (available in most Spanish banks.

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